Baxter addresses pitch concerns
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has today addressed issues over the current state of the Sandy Park playing surface.
In the wake of his side’s narrow home loss to Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership last Saturday, supporters and media alike were quick to criticise the pitch - raising concerns that it could well hamper hopes of the Chiefs replicating their success of last season.
Baxter, though, has no such concerns and spelt out the reasons as to why the Desso Grassmaster hybrid surface was not looking as it would normally at this time of year.
“There is a reality that last season ended very late and we were then back on it within two-and-a-half weeks, so it’s virtually had no time spent on it,” he said.
“Every year since we’ve had the Desso pitch - and people probably don’t realise this - it virtually gets ripped up. When I say that, you don’t rip everything up and start the whole process again, but the whole grass surface is removed, along with two or three inches of top soil. The under-soil part of the mix is then re-energised, replaced and aerated; the plastic fibres get re-fluffed and then it all gets relaid, reseeded and is left to grow over a period of eight weeks before we then get back on it again. None of that has happened this year!
“Coupled with a continued period on it - you have to remember we came out of lockdown and went straight into a period of training and playing game - we then had two weeks off, then got back on it throughout the winter period, this is what has happened.”
Baxter continued: “I know some people have said we have the women’s side playing on it now, but we haven’t had any A League games, less European and Premiership Rugby Cup games on it, so the actual games being played on it are no different to any other block. As I said, it just hasn’t had the time and work put in on it that it would normally get in the off-season.
“There is no mystery to it, no problem going on, it’s just the way it is.
“Some people say we train on it every day, but again that’s not the case. We have a Desso training pitch up the top as well, but that is a worn state because of exactly the same reasons. The pressure of the season has meant it has got like it has.
“The good thing about both pitches is that they dry remarkably quick. Although they are bare in places, they are still pretty firm and fast. It was like that against London Irish the other week and we’re hopeful that as temperatures start to rise and conditions improve over the coming weeks, it will start to get some growth into it.
“We know there will be a period now where it will look worn, but we have no issue with that. We like it firm and fast and, as the weekend showed, it’s the same for both sides. It was just Northampton dealt with it better than us.”