Rob Baxter: The next England coach?
SPOTLIGHT: Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has distanced himself from media speculation that he is the next England coach in waiting.
The national press have been heavily critical of Eddie Jones and England’s performances in this season’s Six Nations Championship, where they finished a disappointing fifth following Saturday’s defeat by Ireland in Dublin.
Jones only signed a contract extension on April 1 last year taking him through to the 2023 World Cup in France, but there is now huge pressure on the RFU to review what has gone wrong in recent months and to consider whether the Australian is still the right man to coach an England team that won the 2020 Six Nations and Nations Cup titles.
Since the weekend, the pressure on Jones has intensified through the media, many of who have tipped Baxter – who last season guided the Chiefs to English and European glory – as the leading contender to take over the reins from the Australian.
At his weekly media briefing ahead of his side’s Premiership trip to Gloucester on Friday, Baxter was quizzed about the matter as well as the criticism which has been labelled at Jones in the wake of this season’s Six Nations.
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“It goes with the territory of being an international rugby coach,” said Baxter.
“And that is probably the biggest problem with the game, well with the position of being England head coach or the international coaches, most things get blown up out of all proportion.
“In other jobs, if you get a one-off win in a World Cup and you have the success over the last five, six-year period of the actual period of the tournaments that England have won, there probably wouldn’t be that big a scrutiny.
“But this year it hasn’t gone so well and there is massive scrutiny. It’s kind of how it goes. Is it fair? Of course it’s not, not really. But it’s kind of what sport is now and probably more magnified in the current climate where you don’t have anything else.
“There’s not really emotional going on in rugby at the moment other than watching the games and being critics from our TVs. You don’t get any feeling of what the game really feels like from the crowd, what supporters are feeling, what emotional involvement seems to be building during a process. It’s a lot harder to deal with and a lot harder to judge than people appreciate.”
Baxter reckoned there should be no snap verdicts about Jones and his management of England in 2021, that a time for pause must be taken given how the pandemic might have affected their usual preparations.
“If I’m perfectly honest I don’t mind holding my hands up and saying I’m not the right person to talk to,” continued Baxter.
“I have not been in an England camp, I have not watched Eddie coach, I have not been part of that preparation phase that you would need to be part of to make those kinds of decisions because that is what you have to do.
“If you are going to make calls on this big a deal you have to have a degree of knowledge. My knowledge of what is happening in the England camp is very limited. My knowledge of it is no greater than yours really, it’s just watching the games, watching the performances and seeing where things go and that’s not always the only picture they have to be aware of.
“There can always be other things going on. There might have been things going on through the camp which can mitigate the disappointment that has happened there.
“If England’s standard of preparation is very based upon the social interactions amongst the team and amongst the players and that is a huge part of their focus and their build and how they create what they want and then you can’t do that in the current climate because of the Covid restrictions, that is why you would need an in-depth knowledge of it, an in-depth feeling of what the camp has been like for three or four years because this is a unique scenario.
“I’m not saying that everyone is not dealing with them because every camp is dealing with them the same but if your camp does rely on the things that are now not possible then it’s a totally different scenario to you compared to what it may be. Things like that, they all have to be taken into account certainly.”
With Exeter Rugby Club chairman and CEO, Tony Rowe OBE, already stating he would warn the RFU off if they came calling for Baxter, who is contracted with the Devon club until 2023, the man himself insists he is perfectly happy in his long-standing role with Sandy Park
“That is exactly my view – I’m under contract, I’m happy here and that is my biggest consideration. If you were at the club here now and I just walked up to the media room, I’m looking down at one end of the ground and I’m seeing a pretty impressive hotel being built that is going to be finished before Christmas.
“Across the ground now we are moving one of our terraces because they have started working on building a new grandstand with 2,000 premium seats to rival the grandstand this side.
“We are going to be able to have a 15,000 capacity before Christmas with some fantastic facilities available, both overnight in the hotel, in seating, in the hospitality here at the club. It’s an exciting time to be part of Exeter, it’s an exciting time to be part of the drive to make this club something very special.
“I have played my part in that so far and there is a lot of attractive reasons to carry on playing my part in that. That would very much be my take on it at this stage.”