Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter has been voted the Rugby Union Writers’ Club personality of the year for 2020.
Baxter succeeds South Africa’s 2019 World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi as holder of the Pat Marshall Memorial Award after masterminding the Chiefs’ Gallagher Premiership and European Champions Cup double last season.
The 49-year-old Devonian guided Exeter into the English top flight in 2010 and the club has built throughout the last decade, culminating in their final victories over Racing 92 and Wasps on successive weekends in October.
Baxter follows in the footsteps of previous greats to have been acclaimed by the RUWC such as Gareth Edwards, Jonah Lomu, Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter, admitting “I feel in exalted company”.
The list of nominees in contention for 2020 also included referee centurion Nigel Owens, Pacific Islands rugby campaigner Dan Leo, Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and France scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
Baxter, who came out on top of a poll of the RUWC’s 250-plus members encompassing writers, photographers and broadcasters, was presented with the award at Sandy Park after the club’s annual dinner was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic
“Looking at some of the names who have been awarded this previously, I have to say I feel in exalted company,” Baxter said.
“I don’t mind telling you it took my breath away when I was looking at the various people who have won this in the past – not just household names but world famous names. It’s a huge honour.
“I have to thank everybody at the club who has helped me on the path to the double championship we won last year and who has been a huge part in the success of Exeter.
“I’m the guy lucky enough to pick up a very prestigious award for the hard work of a lot of people.
“It’s a shame to have missed the rugby writers’ dinner – I’ve been told it’s a remarkable event! – but with the times as they are, we are all doing our best to see the positives in everything. I’d just like to thank everybody involved for voting for me to win this award.”
Exeter became the fourth English club after Leicester, Wasps and Saracens to complete the double.
“It was an incredible year. It was a broken up and odd year, so different to anything else we’ve experienced in rugby,” Baxter said.
“After the restart we turned up like a team with something to prove and something to win. We showed that right through and we never wavered. We put in some outstanding performances.
“When you add it all up, it was an incredible few months. The end felt separate from the start, two seasons rolled into one.
“The first part of the season gave us an opportunity, the second part was all about taking it. That’s why it was such a remarkable season.”