Rob Baxter says 13 Premiership clubs is too many and calls for end to rule “tinkering”

Exeter boss Rob Baxter believes a 13 team Premiership is hindering the game in England and is calling for an end to constant rule amendments in the sport insisting: “I cannot think of many changes in the last five years that have improved the game.”
The current financial woes of Worcester and Wasps have raised the prospect of the Premiership losing two clubs and dropping down to 11 at the end of this season although an even smaller top flight could be the long term answer to ongoing concerns over funding.
Baxter is keen to side step that move but is adamant change needs to be made to ensure the future of English rugby’s professional league.
Baxter, who confirmed prop Marcus Street has a serious knee injury suffered at Worcester, said: “If I turned around and said the Premiership should be six teams everyone will say that Rob Baxter wants to get rid of seven clubs – that’s the end of the Premiership and that is not fair.
“You have to be careful but most people at all the clubs think that 13 is probably too many teams. It is not the right number because it creates these odd weeks with one team not playing and secondly and because of the length of the international calendar, length of the season everyone is starting to realise the product is getting a little watered down. We are not really in sync as a club game with international rugby and that is why most people would say 13 teams is too many.
“The Premiership has been pretty good for a long time and I will keep banging the drum (about) the game needing to settle a little bit. I have been coaching Exeter for about 15 years and if feels as if every year there is some new focus. I am taking the head injury out of this completely because that is a different perspective.
“We have tinkered and changed non stop and when you look at the game and we have created a game that we now feel we have to change the law arounds head injuries. People didn’t get head injuries in scrums and mauls and we have done everything we can to move away from that and apparently that is negative play.
“But, actually what happens is there is loads more tackles and loads more players capable of playing hard for 80 minutes making lots of tackles and more collisions and they turn around and say the game has a head injuries problem. We are a really funny game and five years ago we would have had a conversation about some amazing Premiership games being played. It is amazing the number of law variations that have been tried since then.
“Why do we keep doing it? It takes year for a major change in football so it can an easy game be discussed and understood. What do we do? We change things every year and we just need to let things settle down and decide what we want the game to be. No one can tell me there is another sport in the world that tinkers like we do. There can’t be.
“If other sports did this there would be major uproar and we do it every season changing something and it just feels weird to me. It feels that part of rugby now is that you have to change something every year. You will never get a good product unless you let it settle and officials get used to it and learn the nuances rather than concentrate on one area.
“Everyone knows we have two or three real key refereeing posts every year and then another things starts the next year. We just have to back it ( the game) and until it settles you will never get great rugby. The game is hugely its own worst enemy.
“People will think I am jumping on head injury but I am not. That has been a focus for the last couple of seasons but we have doing this (tinkering) for years. We think we are opening up the game making the tackle area more contestable and immediately people when to aerial ping pong. “
Baxter is frustrated by the current system that sees directors of rugby left out of the discussion when new law trials are given the green light. He added;“As directors of rugby we are not able to get our message to the people who are tinkering with the sport. By the time we have an input the decisions taken at World Rugby level means it’s almost impossible to turn the tide. What happens it gets ironed out over a couple of seasons. Unless there is a real clear health and safety issue – like head injury – none of the things changed pre-head injury were made for health and safety reasons.”