Exeter boss warns of player rebellion over punishments

Exeter boss Rob Baxter warns of player rebellion over ‘frightening inconsistency’ punishments after Chiefs forwards Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner are banned for dangerous tackles and ruled out of Premiership play-offs

  • Baxter has criticised how dangerous tackles are being interpreted
  • It came after Exeter duo Skinner and Ewers were handed four-week bans
  • It means both forwards will miss Exeter’s Premiership play-off campaign

Rob Baxter put rugby’s authorities on alert on Wednesday about the threat of a player rebellion against heavy-handed disciplinary measures, after two key Exeter forwards were banned.

Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner will miss the Chiefs’ Premiership play-off against Sale at Sandy Park on Saturday – and the final if Exeter reach it – after receiving four-match suspensions for dangerous tackles which involved contact with the head. 

This was the latest example of a crackdown linked to the sport’s battle to reduce the threat of concussions, but Baxter was incensed.

Exeter’s Sam Skinner was sent off after his shoulder made contact with Faf de Klerk’s head

The Devon club’s director of rugby warned there was unrest among players about a campaign taking place, partly in response to the prospect of legal action by former players suffering from the after-effects of serious head injuries.

He believes that a co-ordinated response is on the cards and welcomed it, arguing that those trying to operate within tighter laws and interpretations should have more of a say in how they are scrutinised and punished.

Baxter was visibly aggrieved when asked about the sentences handed to Ewers and Skinner. He said: ‘I’m very disappointed. I’m struggling with the whole process. There’s a lack of empathy for players involved in the incidents. What is happening in these scenarios now is frighteningly inconsistent.’ 

His complaint was not about the scope of the sanctions, but the process by which the players were found guilty. Baxter believes the players need to make their own concerns known and said: ‘If you ask a lot of players who are playing now, I don’t think they would agree with what is happening.

Dave Ewers had a yellow card upgraded to a red after he was cited for a dangerous tackle

‘This has come about based on movements (legal proceedings) by ex-players, but players who are playing the game should have an equal, if not bigger, say. I get a growing feeling among the players I talk to — not only at this club — that is something that is not far off happening.

‘There are a number of players now who feel the law changes, regulations and disciplinary procedures are not being directed for them. Players are not stupid. They are obviously aware there is huge pressure on the governing bodies based around the so-called legal procedures that might be put against them.

‘Players playing now need input. Some would say they want these law changes because it protects them, but they need to come out and say that. Or, if they actually believe the game is changing to a game they don’t like and they don’t want it to be, they should say that. Their opinion needs to be heard.

‘They’re all made aware of the consequences of head injuries and concussion. These guys go through a concussion education module every year — it’s not something that is just laughed off. There’s huge awareness.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has hit out at how dangerous tackles are being interpreted

‘They’re the most educated group of players we’ve 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.’

Baxter’s own take on the matter is that there are alarming variations in how mitigating factors are taken into account, in a complex, confrontational game full of endless, high-speed, multi-angle collisions. ‘Yes, we have to look after guys who are being high tackled, but we also have to look after the guys where the high tackle might only be occurring because there is not a lot they can do.

‘Everyone has a responsibility to tackle lower and safely, we’re all aware of that, but rugby is an incredibly dynamic game with a lot of moving parts.’

Exeter’s England wing Jack Nowell is fit and available to play on Saturday after an injury absence.

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