Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner: Exeter Chiefs forwards banned for play-offs

Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner
Dave Ewers (left) and Sam Skinner have been key figures in Exeter’s success this season

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has criticised “frightening inconsistency” in how dangerous tackles are being interpreted after key forwards Sam Skinner and Dave Ewers were given four-week bans.

Skinner was sent off in Saturday’s win over Sale while Ewers had a yellow card upgraded to a red.

It means both will miss Exeter’s Premiership play-off campaign.

“There is a huge amount of inconsistency and a lack of empathy for the players involved,” said Baxter.

“The game needs to be about the players who are playing now, and it doesn’t feel like that at all,” he told BBC Sport.

There have been 23 red cards this season compared to 11 in 2019-20, with much of the increase down to extra focus on dangerous tackles in which players have made contact with opponents’ heads, regardless of intent.

It comes as the rugby authorities try to make the game safer by reducing the number of concussions.

“There really needs to be a move by the players playing in the game to take hold of this, because if you ask a large swathe of the players who are playing now, I don’t think they would agree with what is currently happening,” Exeter’s director of rugby added.

“None of us are naive enough to not realise that this has come about based on movements by ex-players, which is fine.

“I don’t necessarily have a problem with it, I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a say in things, because of course they should because they’ve been playing the game.

“But the players who are playing the game [now] should also have an equal if not bigger say. I get a growing feeling amongst the players I talk to, not only at this club, that that’s something that’s not far off happening.”

‘High degree of danger’

Rob Baxter
Rob Baxter has seen two Exeter players – Jack Yeandle and Sam Skinner – sent off for dangerous tackles this season

Skinner and Ewers will miss the Premiership play-off campaign, starting with Saturday’s semi-final against Sale – who Exeter beat 20-19 on the final day of the regular season on Saturday – because of the bans.

Scotland international Skinner was sent off in the 53rd minute after his shoulder made contact with Sharks scrum-half Faf de Klerk’s head, while Ewers was yellow-carded in the first half for a similar offence on Simon Hammersley and was cited afterwards.

Skinner will now miss Scotland’s summer Tests – he would have been available after Exeter’s play-off run to play against Romania and Georgia at least had he not been banned – and could miss a further game should Exeter not reach the Premiership final.

Ewers’ ban will continue into pre-season, with both players’ return dates to be confirmed once Exeter’s pre-season schedule has been finalised.

“Both cases involved direct contact with an opponent’s head that carried a high degree of danger,” said a statement from the independent disciplinary panel.

“None of the mitigating factors set out in the World Rugby Head Contact Process which would have justified the red card otherwise being reduced to a yellow card were present.

“Neither player accepted the charge and so full mitigation credit was not available to them.”

A six-week ban is the starting point for the offence, with players who admit the charge generally getting a three-week discount. Skinner and Ewers both unsuccessfully challenged their charges on Tuesday and lost a week’s worth of mitigation.

“Dave’s 30 now, played international rugby, played numerous Heineken Cup and Premiership games, in all that time he’s never had one card for foul play, not even a yellow, never a red, nothing,” said Baxter.

“In my opinion there’s an empathy position there that clearly this guy is not someone who goes around looking to high tackle people.

“Straight away my thoughts would be we need to have a look here and see what’s created this scenario and what’s the empathy side of it. There are two sides to every process and it’s kind of not feeling like that at the moment.”

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