Exeter’s Rob Baxter says he wants his players to use any lingering bitterness over the Saracens salary cap saga as extra motivational fuel when the two fierce Premiership rivals meet at Sandy Park for the first time in almost two years this Saturday.
The Chiefs’ director of rugby, who is hoping to welcome back a trio of fit-again international forwards in Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Scotland’s Jonny Gray, was among those upset by Saracens’s behaviour prior to their demotion to the Championship and suggested that, in certain cases, resentment might still be smouldering.
“In sport you use anything you can,” said Baxter, whose squad won the Premiership and European double in 2020 after Saracens were fined and given a points deduction for breaking salary cap regulations. “If some players are still feeling that’s an issue that’s great. They should use that as motivation. It might still feel a personal thing and that’s fine. Everyone’s got to find their own reasons. That’s what you’ve got to do. It’ll be exactly the same for Saracens.”
When the sides last met at full strength in December 2019, there was a mass pitchside scuffle which resulted in the substituted and previously sin-binned Chiefs prop Harry Williams being red-carded. Allegations of sledging were subsequently made against some Saracens players but Exeter won the game 14-7 and Sarries, who had to spend last season playing in the second tier, have not visited Devon since.
If the mutual antipathy is not quite on a par with Manchester United versus Liverpool, Baxter is not averse to such comparisons being made. “If people think it’s that big, that’s great for both of us. You want to be involved in big fixtures that attract a lot of support and a lot of coverage. I’m delighted if that’s how people see it and we’ve got to make sure that brings the best out of us.
“Everyone’s aware of the salary cap stuff and there are obviously international-quality head-to-heads on the pitch as well. For all kinds of reasons it’s a really big and exciting game. Saracens are above us in the league and we want to be further up the league than we are. There are lots of motivations for us and we should use every one of them.”
His Saracens’ counterpart Mark McCall, however, has made clear he does not want his players to get too carried away. “We try not to hype things up too much. Our motivation is very inward in lots of ways and that’s served us well down the years. We want to be a really consistent team who don’t pick and choose when we get more motivated or when we don’t. But there are obviously going to be games that certain individuals are going to really enjoy getting up and for some people that might be Exeter.”
Cardiff insist they will still fulfil their European Cup fixtures this month despite the looming unavailability of all those marooned in South Africa this week by Covid-related issues. While the bulk of the party, which includes 15 Welsh internationals, are due to return to the UK on a morning charter flight, they will be required to quarantine in a hotel in England for 10 days while six squad members must remain in Cape Town after returning positive Covid tests. Fourteen members of Munster’s travelling party are also being required to complete a 10-day quarantine period in South Africa.
Wasps have signed the Argentina loosehead prop Rodrigo Martínez. The 23-year-old made his Test debut in September and featured against France last month.