Rob Baxter Q&A Special
By Mark Stevens
With no action currently for the Exeter Chiefs, Mark Stevens talked with Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, about the current situation, the day to day of things for him and his team, together with future plans.
Here is the transcript of our interview
MS: Rob, it’s very quiet here at Sandy Park right now and we find ourselves in very much unprecedented times, what do you make of it all?
RB: Listen, the most important thing to talk about first is the well-being of people, that has to come first and foremost. We are talking about sport and it’s a massively important thing to us, the community and the people who support Exeter Chiefs.
Actually, though, the big important factor is we get the health part of it right for our supporters, the players and staff, and obviously for the wider community.
We have to make sure we play our part in making sure that we limit the spread of the Coronavirus, as we have been asked to by the Government, and follow those guidelines. Trying to get those things on an even keel for the country is the most important thing. Sandy Park being quiet is unusual, but it’s part of the sacrifice that all businesses have to make to get the country through this as quickly as we can.
MS: It is challenging times for everyone at this moment?
RB: Once you take out that context of the bigger picture of people’s health, people’s well-being and the tragedies that may happen, when we look back at ourselves it sets us some real challenges around keeping the players fit and healthy and ready to resume rugby.
They are big challenges. Everybody knows it’s very much up in the air at the moment, yesterday saw the Premier Football League put their resumed start back a bit, and we are due to start again on the weekend of 24/25 April.
We probably think our lads need a minimum of three weeks full training to get them reloaded after what will have been a month’s break. Our lads, by the time we plan on bringing them back around April 6, they will have had a month off and other than their own individual training programmes, that is all they will have done.
At some stage in all of this, we are going to need to start talking about getting them back into action on a rugby field in preparation for when games may happen again.
That balance of what, when, where we do things, aligning with what we are being advised by the Government to do, that’s going to be an interesting challenge. It’s one from a sporting context which, if you get it right and the players buy into it, you can also use it to your benefit in a sporting context.
MS: From your own perspective you have to keep planning and looking ahead, you’ve told me that it’s been a busy period for you?
RB: Recruitment is an on-going process. Although a majority of what we want to do for next season is done, our actual recruitment cycle goes way beyond that, so the nice thing about having the last couple of weeks off is that it’s allowed me to look a little longer term.
You start to assess the guys who maybe at this stage of the season you wouldn’t spend as much time on. Guys who may be coming available in a year’s time, and what our contract cycle is going to be like in a year, two years’ time, you start to look at all of that.
We can also start to spend a bit of time in depth talking about how the season has gone so far. By that I mean, what are the key elements that have really stood out for us and what has been good, can we work on them to be super strengths. Also, we can look at what we want to leave behind and what are the most important facets to work on moving forward.
MS: Assessing your own players and looking at their own performances is another thing you would have done?
RB: 100%. That is what I have done these last few days. I’ve looked over our last few games and seen where everyone is. Obviously, on-going medical assessment with our rehab players is another thing because time is going by with those players as well.
Guys who may have had less of the season to play, now they could well play a third of the season. Obviously, it’s not great timing for some of those guys because it’s hard to get high-quality,
continual rehab into them. It’s a challenge all of them and we’re putting a lot of onus on them to do work at home, but some of them have been able to come in and out of the club and get some detailed work done as well.
MS: How are the guys keeping themselves occupied?
RB: I think there is a fair bit of online gaming going on! To be fair, what you do need to remember is they are in a difficult scenario as well. They will want to be good people and doing the right things, but at the same time not be seen as taking it as too much fun.
Until the last round of the Premiership, we had been going pretty full on. The Premiership Cup Final weekend - which was cancelled - was effectively our first week off and where we could have some genuine down time.
It’s a little strange it has led into this for them, but they probably haven’t fully relaxed. I think they have had some mental and physical down time, but I think most of them - and I know this because Twiggsy (Mark Twiggs, Head of Strength & Conditioning) is saying the guys are starting to phone up, asking what equipment can they get to, where can they go and train, and they are probably ready to get back on a field and do some stuff.
That’s obviously good, but it’s controlling that balance of what they do, when they do it, and where they do it, that is still very important to us.
MS: As you eluded to Rob, you are going to have to do another pre-season?
RB: It’s going to be a mini pre-season. The reality is when you have a five-week break, then you tend to have about two months before you go into games. This is slightly different in that they are going to have five weeks off, come back into three or four weeks training at the most, then back into games. It’s a mini pre-season in a way.
They are not really that far away from playing before, but they are far enough away that you can risk injuries by not loading correctly and not getting back into contact scenarios correctly.
People are probably are unaware of this, but all the injury facts show you have a golden period when you are most injury free in a way. A period when you are least likely to suffer an injury. It’s not when you are most fresh, despite what people think and what the press say about player welfare, but it’s not the first couple of games back, it’s more when you are five or six weeks in.
Your body hits a golden period when you are most adapted to playing rugby and contact and you then have a 10-12 week block where you are actually at your best. What we have to try and do is replicate getting our players - if you look at what is going to happen, especially if you get to a final - we kind of want to get to that scenario again.
It means the guys will be involved in some tough training for two or three weeks, just to make sure we are hitting that golden period when the games restart. When they will be, however, we’re still not sure. That said, most people are thinking at some stage we are going to try and finish this domestic season, so that is what our preparation is going to be around.