Exeter boss Baxter ready to make most of surprise break

London (AFP) –


Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter wants the English and European champions to make the most of an unexpected two-week break despite wanting to fill the gap with Premiership fixtures.

Baxter, along with Bristol and Wasps counterparts Pat Lam and Lee Blackett, had called for English Premiership games to be brought forward to fill the gap in this month's schedule created by the suspension of European competition which was halted when the French government effectively told Top 14 clubs not to travel amid coronavirus concerns.

Premiership Rugby, however, opted for a break citing welfare concerns and it now appears the final two rounds of European pool matches could be abandoned in favour of going straight to the last 16 stage in a bid to get events completed before the end of the season.

Exeter were due to continue their European title defence against French giants Toulouse on Saturday having forfeited the away fixture because of an outbreak of coronavirus.

"We were thinking we have a big game against Toulouse, but the reality is we've known for a few days it's unlikely to happen," Baxter said Wednesday.

"Myself and Pat Lam both wanted to play in Europe and we were probably concerned that if Premiership games weren't moved, in theory creating some space, there's a risk the Champions Cup would have to be squeezed.

"Now that the picture is clearing a bit and there doesn't seem to be any drive to compress any fixtures and the Champions Cup will be formatted around the four weekends available, that changes things a little bit and eases those frustrations of trying to create space.

"This break has doubled our pre-season and we're going to make the most of it."

But calling a halt now could mean some England players who won't have played for a month or more ahead of the reigning champions Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6.

Baxter's comments came as Premiership Rugby reported a minor drop in coronavirus cases in the latest round of testing conducted on Monday and Tuesday.

Thirteen players and five members of staff from nine different clubs produced positives for Covid-19, a reduction of one on the previous week's total of 19.