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pool 5

'An oncoming train': Schmidt singles out Baxter as Chiefs threat

The Leinster head coach has looked over the numbers and was taken aback by the veteran’s work-rate.

IN BETWEEN NURSING his players back to health, Joe Schmidt has found time to run the numbers on Exeter Chiefs.

There is never much chance of Schmidt taking an opponent for granted and that was underlined last week when the Kiwi coach highlighted Exeter’s Premiership exploits before most fans had even made their way out of the Aviva Stadium.

Whereas most looked at the pool draw and the relative European pedigree of these teams and see no contest, Schmidt has been impressed by the Chiefs’ opening to the season.

“There’s an oncoming train,” the head coach said today in an attempt to move on from the inter-pro win over Munster.

“I think the reality is 42-28 again Harlequins.  Harlequins got a charge-down and try an intercept. You add that up and (the winning margin) could have been a lot more. I do certainly think that the way they manage to stay in games and then get on top is a real credit to them.”

Schmidt also highlighted the southern English side’s expansive style and ability to put points on the board as a key factor for them, but the key man he singled out for praise – and surely special attention at the RDS on Saturday – is veteran number eight Richie Baxter.

Baxter, 34, embodies the collective spirit and family atmosphere which surrounds Exeter. Not only has he been playing with the club since 1997, but his brother Rob is head coach, having himself played close to a decade and a half in the Chiefs pack.

“The loose forwards are very, very strong. I think Rob Baxter was talking about his brother saying, he has the highest contacts.” Schmidt said.

“Look at him. He gets the highest number of tackles, he often has the most carries for them and his clean-outs are high.

“You often get someone who has a lot of carries, but not a lot of clean-outs. He tends to double up in that area.”

Richard Baxter is tackled by Northampton Saints’ Dylan Hartley. Nigel French/EMPICS Sport

To counteract the visitors’ spiritual and physical leader, Leinster’s back row options have been boosted by the news that Kevin McLaughlin (who left the Munster game early with an elbow injury) came through training “really well” today.

Schmidt also reported that Brian O’Driscoll and Isa Nacewa played a full part in training while Rob Kearney came through today’s session without any problem.

Gordon D’Arcy’s rib injury looks likely to rule him out again however, with Schmidt saying the veteran centre, ‘has done bits’ in training, adding:

“We”ll have to wait until tomorrow to see if he can get through a fitness test.”

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