Exeter pair frustrated over crowd restrictions for Gallagher Premiership final

Exeter boss Rob Baxter and Chiefs’ England international back Jack Nowell have voiced frustration over a restricted 10,000 crowd capacity at Twickenham for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final.

Premiership Rugby had been hoping to host 20,000 socially-distanced spectators for English rugby’s domestic showpiece between Exeter and Harlequins, but the Government refused to grant it test-event status.

Games at Wembley in the later stages of Euro 2020, and events such as Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix during the next few weeks are set for substantially bigger crowds than at an 82,000-capacity Twickenham.

Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons – Gallagher Premiership – Sandy Park
Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter (Simon Galloway/PA)

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” Nowell said. “If everyone was doing it, fair enough, you’ve got to be safe.

“But Wembley last night had 19,000 (for England against the Czech Republic) and they are going to 60,000 next week and you’ve got other sports events going on as well (with crowds).

“At the end of the day, we are outdoors. Twickenham is an 80,000-seater stadium. There is no reason why we can’t have more in there, but I don’t know who is making the decisions.

“From a players’ point of view and the team’s point of view, we are just gutted that we can’t have a lot more people watching it.”

Asked if rugby as a sport should make it more of an issue, Nowell added: “I think we’ve just sat back and taken it, to be honest.

“The fact there are other events going on and other amounts of people coming in to watch, who seem to be getting on fine, there is absolutely no reason for us not to be doing it.”

Baxter, meanwhile, said: “It is a double-edged sword.

“It is fantastic there are some supporters there, because we went to two finals and semi-finals last season with zero supporters, so that’s great and is a very positive step forward.

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“I don’t think anyone involved in rugby isn’t shaking their head a little bit when they see the crowd numbers that are going to be happening at other sporting events, both now and very quickly, especially when you consider Twickenham is an 82,000 capacity.

“It seems very odd. Why rugby has been singled out, I don’t know.”

Reigning league champions Exeter have reached a sixth successive Premiership final, while Quins will contest their first since 2012.

Baxter has reported no fresh injury concerns, and it remains to be seen whether Scotland captain and full-back Stuart Hogg will be part of his starting line-up.

Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs – Gallagher Premiership – Franklin’s Garden
Exeter full-back Stuart Hogg (Mike Egerton/PA)

Nowell returned after injury for the Chiefs last weekend and scored two tries in the Premiership play-off victory over Sale Sharks.

He was handed full-back duties, rather than starting in his more familiar position of wing, with those positions being filled by Alex Cuthbert and Tom O’Flaherty.

Hogg, who leaves for South Africa with the British and Irish Lions on Sunday, was named among Exeter’s replacements against Sale.

Baxter said: “He (Hogg) has been very angry and very frustrated in all the right ways, and that is what I expect.

“I don’t expect a successful professional sportsman to be happy with not being in the team coming into big games.

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“We had another very good discussion on Monday. He has trained well this week. He knows how important he is likely to be in this game.

“He is getting on with things and he looks to me like he is preparing to do whatever he can to help the team win a Premiership trophy.”

Nowell has endured an injury-ravaged season, and his virtuoso display against Sale came after being sidelined for six weeks.

“That is just typical of him. He delivered, and he has put himself right back in the shop window with that performance,” Baxter added.

“Hopefully, he will follow that through in the final this week, then obviously there is the opportunity if England decide to (select him), that there are some England games next month.

“And now he is up and running, I can’t believe he’s not now on the radar for the Lions as well, so the whole summer could really open up for him now, based on performances like that.”