- Exeter Chiefs head coach hammers home fundamentals of forward-play
- “I’m a very proud Englishman and proud to be here and doing this” – Baxter
Now that Rob Baxter’s meteoric rise has found him instated as England forwards coach for the current tour of South America, the Exeter Chiefs supremo wants his new charges to continue on the “upward curve” they have enjoyed over the past year.
Four years ago when Baxter took charge of Exeter – a side he represented for 14 seasons as a player – the Devon outfit were in the second tier of English rugby.
And while the 42 year-old freely admits that a place in the national set-up was a long way from his thoughts at that point, he is eager to make a difference during his short-term secondment.
“It’s been interesting,” Baxter explained. “Flat-out, as you’d expect with a relatively new group of players – some who haven’t been involved with England before.
“It’s been very much about getting the right information and spreading it across the players so that everyone is working off the same play sheet.
“At the same time, I want to introduce a few new things that the England coaching staff wanted to push forward for the development of the team.
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“In a lot of ways it’s been quite hectic and the days have flown by but it’s been very interesting working with some new coaches and a different group of players. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
Having masterminded the Chief’s remarkable resurgence from RFU Championship to Heineken Cup – a tournament they will participate in again next term after sixth-place finish in the 2012/3 Aviva Premiership campaign – Baxter suggested some Exeter hallmarks might come in useful during his time in Graham Rowntree’s shoes.
“I can’t say [four years ago] I was planning to coach England in Argentina, but we’ve been very fortunate at Exeter that we’ve had some good seasons and pushed into the Premiership.
“Just as some of our players have begun to get international recognition, it so happens that some of the coaching staff have got recognition as well.
“It’s fantastic for all of us, and it’s a nice reward for how well we are doing as a club. I’m a very proud Englishman and proud to be here and doing this.
“At Exeter we talk about maximising the output of each player and I think that’s what we do quite well. Obviously it’s always a battle and we are proud of how quickly we get back off the floor and back into the game.
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“It requires a high level of fitness from the players but you get that [with England] as well – the players don’t get to this level by jogging around in a Premiership game. They are committed players, but we have to focus that commitment in the right way. That is what produces the team performance.”
Insisting that England’s progress has remained constant over the past year despite the setback of a galling 30-3 RBS 6 Nations loss to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in March, Baxter outlined one of his main aims as laying foundations ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015.
But well aware that re-inventing the wheel is not necessary with such a talented young group – some of whom such as Henry Thomas and Billy Vunipola are starting on Sunday against a CONSUR XV – he finished by reiterating the importance of forward-play’s raw basics.
“I’d like to think I could put my own twist on a few things, but the reality is that your set-piece has to work, your collisions have to work, your breakdown has to work and you have to get tempo ball.
“Those things don’t change. How you do them can be tinkered a bit, but the reality is that the core fundamentals for this pack are the same this week as they were last week, as they were a month ago.”