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Exeter boss says rugby’s challenge is to survive pandemic as Wasps get all-clear

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter said rugby’s priority was simply to stay alive – after the Premiership Final dodged a Covid bullet.

The English game breathed a collective sigh of relief as virus-hit Wasps were cleared to play Baxter's Euro kings in Saturday’s showpiece.

It meant Bristol, who had been put on standby to take their place, were stood down and the prospect of a club already knocked out of the competition being crowned champions was mercifully avoided.

Baxter admitted such a scenario, which undoubtedly would have damaged the credibility of the league, would have felt "odd".

But he went no further, arguing that until the nation escapes the pandemic rugby’s financial survival HAS to come first.

Baxter said: “The biggest challenge for rugby at the moment is not who wins trophies, it’s going to be staying around as a professional viable sport over the next 12 months.

“Look, it (playing Bristol) would have felt odd, it would have felt weird, it would have felt difficult to have to provide a game in some odd way.

“But the answer can’t be that you let a team that has a Covid outbreak play. So what do you do, create trophies by default?

“The reality is rugby clubs can’t afford to skip games and not have television revenue. They just can’t. The only thing producing revenue at the moment is games on TV.”

Exeter chairman Tony Rowe warned in these pages last month that England’s top clubs faced financial ruin unless fans are allowed back into games soon.

He revealed that Chiefs, the only top flight club to turn a profit prior to the pandemic, were losing £1 million a month.

“People have to stop and grasp the fundamentals of what is currently happening in professional sport,” added Baxter, whose side are through to a fifth straight final.

“Someone can always come up with a better answer but the better answers aren’t always realistic or rational when you start asking ‘What do you want to do about the money part of it?’”

Wasps are just relieved to be given the green light having had 11 players and staff test positive either side of the weekend.

One more positive and they would have forfeited but yesterday's results came back clear, allowing them to return to training for the first time in a week.

Crisis is therefore averted this time but with the new season only a month away Baxter admits he is scared Covid will catch up with his team.

“I’m terrified of it myself, I don’t mind telling you,” he said. “We’ve had hardly any of it in the camp. The boys have been locked down and have been fantastic.

“But that can’t go on forever. It’s impossible. It isn’t just going to go away is it? We’re in an area where, sooner or later, unless a vaccine happens, it’s going to get into the community.

“And once it does we could be one of the most affected clubs because we haven’t had it.”

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