Rob Baxter has said Exeter ‘are going to look a little bit deeper on return’

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Rob Baxter has backed the two-week break which the Gallagher Premiership and Champions Cup winners Exeter Chiefs now face following the suspension of the European season.

Baxter and Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam were both eager to see Premiership matches moved into the gap in the schedule which opened up once the Champions and Challenge Cup were suspended this week.

Speaking on Wednesday, however, Baxter explained his current train of thought, adding that the extra rest afforded to Exeter was a positive, while adding that the Champions Cup is set to return later this season in an altered format, yet to be confirmed by tournament organisers.

"Now in hindsight with the changing picture, I’m not [frustrated]. Myself and Pat [Lam] both want 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 or there would be the pressure of midweek fixtures being put into place like we had at the tail end of last season.

"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," Baxter explained.

"For me it was all about how we are going to create space without doubling up games during the week. It seems now that no one is expecting that to happen. Looking at what’s been said, it looks like there will be some kind of change to the format to allow it to be completed in the four weekends available. That’s eased the pressure.

"We’re still waiting to see what format that will be. Looking at what is happening around the country, this looks like a supportive measure. With no doubling up of fixtures, it’s less of an issue to me now.

"If our only option to stay in the Heineken Cup is a straight knock-out, we’d certainly take it. We’re relatively low within that group of 16 so we’ll almost certainly be travelling away, but it is what it is."

With Covid-19 continuing to affect sport across the country, Baxter conceded that while all his focus was now on facing Worcester on January 30, that situation could change and the break could be extended, although he stressed there has been no suggestion from Premiership Rugby that would be the case.

Baxter added that the rest period would allow Exeter to bring back some key first-team players from injury, including Stuart Hogg and Jack Nowell. Hogg appears on track to be fit for the start of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign as he recovers from a hamstring injury, while Nowell is making progress after undergoing surgery following the end of last season but appears unlikely to feature for England in the tournament.

"It’s more niggles around this time. We’re hopeful Stuart Hogg and Facundo Cordero’s hamstring injuries will be clear by the time we get through the end of this. Alex Cuthbert is getting close now with his calf injury which is obviously good news, he has had an extended period away," Baxter added.

"Other guys are further away but after this break will be closer, guys you haven’t seen for a while like Jack Nowell, Jannes Kirsten, Jacques Vermeulen, they’ll be getting close and are probably five to six weeks away. We are getting there. Joe Simmonds looks like a three to four-week injury, potentially, so he will be close to being back. We are going to look a little bit deeper on return."