Baxter backing the Exeter way
March 4, 2011
Richard Baxter holds the record for most Exeter appearances © Getty Images
It's less than 12 months since the trusty boot of Gareth Steenson propelled Exeter into the Aviva Premiership for the first time following a Championship play-off rout of Bristol, but the Chiefs have already racked up a good few years' worth of memories in the top flight.
Take the opening day victory over Gloucester in front of the Sandy Park faithful, a maiden European win, over Bourgoin, or an away day to savour against Saracens - ticks in the win column have not been as hard to come by as many predicted and the Chiefs have also secured their safety in style.
Even last weekend's 12-9 loss to Bath was lit up by a couple of surges from the monstrous Sireli Naqelevuki plus a scything break from Kiwi recruit Jason Shoemark, and the Devon boys do boast the confidence in their ability as an attacking unit that has eluded other recent additions to the upper echelons of English rugby.
For a player such as No.8 Richard Baxter, the brother of head coach Rob and a veteran of over 300 games for the club across 13 years, the current campaign has been a long time coming after the travails of recent seasons, where Exeter finished second best in National One on a number of frustrating occasions.
The club has a framework built to secure their status as a major force in the Premiership and also for rugby in Devon, beginning with Sandy Park and the surrounding facilities, all of which Baxter believes builds the confidence of the players and staff.
"We've got a purpose-built rugby stadium here with a conference facility as well and a business built into it, we've got great training facilities, which is all on campus, the squad gets on very well and we're very well coached," he said. "We've got a fantastic medical and fitness side of things as well. I think the whole package is here, which enables the players to be fairly confident about how we prepare and that means we can really go out and enjoy and attack most of the games."
Throughout his time with Exeter there have been myriad changes to their setup, with the decision to up sticks from the old County Ground to their current home among the largest. As the Championship's labyrinthine play-off phase grinds into action over the coming weeks there will be a number of questions asked on the competing clubs' suitability for Premiership competition and Baxter believes that the Chiefs' model could be one to follow.
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"I think what we've done at Exeter has probably been the right way, we built the ground and steadily improved the squad," he said. "Everything was in place to go up with. Whether that's right or wrong I don't know but if you look at our results and how we've gone this season, perhaps that is the right way of doing it."
Despite missing out on the early rounds of the season to recover from surgery Baxter has seamlessly slotted into a hard-working Chiefs back-row and having recently re-signed for a further two years, the 32-year-old is set to be as big a part of the club's future as he has been of their past.
When looking back at the recent achievements of the squad Baxter finds it hard to look past their play-off victory over Bristol in terms of an overall highlight. There, across two games, the Chiefs comprehensively outplayed their much-fancied rivals to the tune of a 38-16 aggregate victory, the second leg in particular being a tactical masterclass from the elder Baxter in the coaching hotseat.
"I think the feeling of being in that side that got us finally into the Premiership, especially with being in the team for so long and getting so close, that made it a really special occasion for me personally and for the club as a whole," he said. "I think that's probably why this season we've enjoyed every game that we've played in, because it's been so long coming."
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Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.