Whatever happens in the aftermath of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has no concerns about his players returning from international duty. While he firmly believes that young playmaker Henry Slade should have seen more action for England before his run-out on Saturday in the dead rubber against Uruguay, he insists that the player will not carry any emotional baggage following his time in camp.
“I’ve got no worries with Henry,” Baxter told Rugby World at the official launch of the 2015-16 Aviva Premiership season. “I actually spoke to him yesterday, spoke to Jack (Nowell) yesterday, spoke to Geoff (Parling) yesterday and they’re all looking forward to getting into training on Monday. But rugby players are like that.
“I’m not going to pretend I know all the England rugby players, because I don’t. But I know that your average rugby player is a pretty good guy and what he likes to do is get on the training field, run around with a ball in his hands and get back into playing rugby. That’s why they got into the game to start with. None of them got paid the first time they picked up a ball. They loved doing it and that’s why, no matter what they say and what they do, we all know they are big kids inside and they just want to get out and play sport with their mates.
“That’s why you’ve got to make sure that’s at the forefront of what they do, and probably if we’re honest that’s what we haven’t seen from this England team during the World Cup. It hasn’t looked vibrant and enjoyable and expressive; it’s looked a bit sad and a bit afraid, a bit nervous. That’s probably what we’re more disappointed about than the results.”
Yet while he feels a self-contained style of play has let England down, Baxter has called for calm in the wake of England’s exit from the Rugby World Cup, urging pundits and fans to wait to see what comes out of any probe into why England crashed out of their home tournament before sticking the boot in.
Baxter, who was an assistant to head coach Stuart Lancaster during the 2013 summer tour of South America while Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell were with the British & Irish Lions in Australia, has ruled himself out of the running as a possible replacement for Lancaster. However, while he is keen to focus on the start of the Premiership campaign, he has called on outsiders to consider the “human element” before slating the England coaches.
“There will be an awful lot of people commenting who’ve not been on the inside and not seen what’s happened,” said Baxter. “I fall into the camp where I don’t really know. Now how the last three months have been is not for me to say, but one thing everyone needs to remember is that coaching group have gone through a lot themselves and they’ve got family and they’ve got people who care about them and to see what they’ve had to go through in the last couple of weeks is not very nice.
“There is a human element we all need to remember. And I’m one of those people in the camp who thinks England have a lot of time now, there isn’t any rush for them to do something. The Six Nations is a little while away. The players will go back to their clubs for a Premiership programme and a European programme to get involved with and actually the RFU can take their time, make the proper decisions, do a proper detailed review and the right people can make the right changes – if any. Because we can all talk about what’s happened but none of us really know in detail.”
Baxter had no issues working with Lancaster and revelled in the level of autonomy afforded him as a temporary forwards coach. He did not wish to comment on the current coaching staff or rumours of coaches being undermined, but insisted that it was on-field matters that really matter.
“The squad selection, the formation of the camp, team selection and their performance: that’s how you have to judge him (Lancaster),” Baxter said. “Trying to find issues like ‘is there a problem with the coaching staff?’ or ‘Was there a problem in the camp?’ are not for us to talk about. We should actually go, ‘Well he’s the head coach, he’s responsible for X, Y, Z, so did it happen on the pitch?’ That’s how we should judge him, then we can take away the niggly and nasty bits and keep it about taking responsibility for the team on a Saturday.”