Rob Baxter suggested Premiership players could have a greater say in how the laws are governed moving forward
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Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, has expressed his frustration with the English game’s disciplinary system after forwards Sam Skinner and Dave Ewers both received four-match bans for dangerous tackles following last weekend’s win over Sale Sharks.
Skinner and Ewers will now miss the rest of the season, having been red carded and yellow carded respectively last Saturday, leaving Exeter light in their pack even with Scotland Jonny Gray set to return for this weekend’s semi-final, also against Sale.
Baxter’s irritation lies with the "inconsistency" of the current disciplinary system – referencing a high tackle on Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie a few weeks ago which went unpunished – and suggested that Premiership players could have a greater say in how the laws are governed moving forward.
"I am very disappointed," Baxter said. "If I am honest, I am struggling with the whole process and everything about it a little bit. There is a huge amount of inconsistency, a lack of empathy for the players involved in the incidents. I definitely think it is getting to the stage that is something that the players who are currently playing the game need to have, or need to decide through the RPA on how they are going to do it, have a lot more input on how the whole process around making the laws, how they are refereed, cited etc.
"If you ask a lot of the players who are playing now, I don’t think they would agree with what is currently happening. I would say that some players have already started making comments on it. And I think their comments should be given a bit more credibility.
"These are the guys who are living and having their career here and they are all made aware of the consequences of head injury and concussion. These guys go through a concussion education module every year – it’s not something that is just laughed and joked off. These are the guys who go through the HIA process, so there’s a huge awareness; they’re not ignorant. People turn around and say: ‘These players are just ignorant about what the repercussions of playing the game might be.’ They are 100 per cent not.
"They are the most educated group of players we have ever had in the history of rugby union. So if some of them turn around and say – ‘I’m not sure if I like the way the game is going’ – they are not doing that from a position of ignorance. No one could claim that. I do think that the way some of them are thinking should be part of the process of where the game goes."
Baxter also called for greater empathy when it came to punishing players such as Ewers, 30, who previously had a clean disciplinary record and saw his yellow card for a tackle on Simon Hammersley upgraded by the citing officer to a red card offence.
"The actual ruling is not a problem. I’m not complaining that the four-week ban should be a different ban, I’m talking about how they are found to be guilty in the first place."
In terms of performances Exeter have had to dig two comebacks out of the bag over the past two weeks, recovering from 18-0 down against Northampton and 19-3 down against Sale to win both matches en route to securing a sixth successive home semi-final.
Exeter will at least be boosted by the fact Jack Nowell is fit again and available for selection for the semi-final, while forward Jannes Kirsten is also on track to feature as he works his way through the return-to-play protocols.