Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter made an impassioned defence of his club’s style of play as the conversation in rugby circles focuses on whether the game is going dull.
What is certain is Exeter have developed a dominant winning formula, one which others are trying to mimic.
The only thing that’s dull about Chiefs at the moment is the predictability of results – so far ahead of their rivals are the Devon-side. .
So far this campaign Baxter’s men have steamrollered over Harlequins 3-33 in Round One and Bath 40-3 in Round Two to sit top of the new 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership table with back-to-back bonus point wins and a positive points difference of +67 having already scored 11 tries, the most of any side in the league by four.
It’s hard not to imagine a future where Leicester Tigers aren’t going to suffer a similar fate this weekend as well.
Of Exeter’s 11 tries, five have come from mauls, two from 5m scrums where Chiefs have pushed the opposition back over their try line, one from forwards powering over from close range and three from open field play.
For people tempted to tinker with the laws again, Baxter’s message is let things settle for a while and coaches and players will work out a way to beat defences.
Baxter said: “People might be criticizing us at the moment, I don’t why? Maybe because we are on TV more than others. There are ways of negating what we do, you just have to commit to stopping us.
“If you commit to stopping our maul [you can], but you might have to leave space elsewhere to do it, and that creates a different type of game because there is space somewhere else and we would be fools not to play to it.
“People talk about de-powering the maul and making them easier to stop, why? They are easy enough to stop now if you commit enough people to them. But if you want to commit eight forwards to it, and the opposition don’t want to commit their eight forwards to it then they probably aren’t going to stop it. That is what the game is about, making those decisions at the right time.
“It continually baffles me that people won’t let the game cycle out, because as they game cycles out you have to continually change and adapt, we are already changing and adapting things.”
While Chiefs are dominant up front, scoring with their powerful maul and perfectly drilled scrum, Exeter are not afraid to cut sides up with their backs when the opportunities arise.
Of the three open field tries scored by Chiefs so far this season, two are serious contenders for try of the season already, with 20 rounds plus the play-offs still to come.
Gallagher Premiership Player of Round Two, Tom O’Flaherty, scored the most outrageous of tries at the weekend as he volleyed a cross-field kick from Joe Simmonds into the dead ball area before winning a race to touch down. It was a triumph of skill, balance, quick thinking and innovation.
Meanwhile Chiefs full back Facundo Cordero has gained the most metres in attack (186m) in the Premiership after two rounds and beaten more defenders (17) than any other player.
Number eight Sam Simmonds is the top try scorer by a country mile with five already, including one solo effort from 48m out against Harlequins which left those who witnessed it shaking their heads in disbelief.
He turned to the cameras at The Stoop that day, arms aloft mirroring the famous scene in Russell Crowe’s epic movie Gladiator when the central character asks his audience: ‘Are you not entertained?’
Well aren’t you?
Simmonds tally of five already compares favourably to the 11 scored by Bristol’s Ben Earl and Gloucester’s Ollie Thorley to be named joint top try scorers in the Premiership in 2019/20.
While the international game is being dominated by defences, the Premiership is a live and well and soon set to entertain fans back in stadiums which Baxter said will go a long way the raising the spectacle levels.
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Baxter added: “I have no problem at all with criticism as long as it is bounded up with facts.
“I think a lot of times feelings take away from facts and we have got to be really careful we don’t have this romantic memory of what the game used to be like, being a lot quicker because they weren’t.
“People have got so short a memory of what they thought was this incredible game, that genuinely concerns me. If you actually sit down and analyze the time in play it is not actually that bad.”