Rob Baxter insists Exeter will continue targeting European honours in defiance of a reduced salary cap that he believes could accelerate the supply of English-qualified players.
Gallagher Premiership clubs are now operating under a lower wage ceiling of £5million after £1.4m was shaved off their spending capacity because of the financial impact of Covid, while the number of marquee player slots has also decreased from two to one.
Due to the way the reduction has been structured, it is not expected to start having an impact until next season when English teams will enter the Heineken Champions Cup from a position of weakness compared to their better-funded rivals from France and Ireland.
But Baxter will refuse to view Europe as a secondary consideration to the Premiership, even though the scope to sign high-quality overseas players is vastly diminished.
“We will do everything we can to be competitive. We are certainly not thinking of throwing in the towel in Europe over the next couple of seasons,” the director of rugby said.
“I want to create and be part of a team that is competitive every year regardless of what the salary cap is, it’s just a slightly different challenge now. It may be something that makes us stronger in two years’ time.
“If the majority of clubs spend the next two years focussing on development and if we then move back to the £6.4m cap and back to having two marquee players, it could be a very bright period for those English clubs in Europe.
“The reduction makes the Premiership way less competitive when it comes to southern hemisphere signings.
“Some of the base salaries in Australia and New Zealand are probably comparable to what we could pay before when we could be very competitive. That is not really the case now.
“Whether that will change over the next two years I’m not sure, but it will put an onus on the development of players. It could be that in two years’ time you have got a raft of English-developed players.
“We are looking at the positives and we are going to spend a couple of years recruiting good value players who we think are going to add to what we are doing here.”
Exeter opened their Champions Cup campaign by dismantling Montpellier 42-6 and on Saturday they visit Glasgow as they target a place in the knockout phase of a tournament they won in 2020.
🏉 - @ExeterChiefs lock Jonny Gray says he and his team-mates can expect real battle against @GlasgowWarriors in Saturday's @ChampionsCup clash at Scotstoun ⬇️https://t.co/dxfwThEEvO pic.twitter.com/aPBZxTgOvo— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) December 14, 2021
While Covid is once again disrupting European competition, it was an outbreak of flu that has affected preparations for the Scotstoun clash.
“We’ve had one round of it go through the club. We didn’t get the guys in on Monday – we took a flu break to try and keep them away from each other for a couple of days,” Baxter said.
“The last couple of years have thrown up challenges and you can’t use that as an excuse for chopping and changing, we should all be used to it.
“We have told every member of the squad to make sure they turn up on Friday morning with a bag ready to play because we don’t know how many changes we will have to make after Thursday’s round of testing.
“We might suddenly lose five players, but we can still take 23 to Glasgow and those guys have got to get on the plane. You have got to roll with the punches.”