Baxter brothers relish their roles in Exeter's ongoing success story
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter hailed his brother's contribution to his side's continuing success, as they prepare for their Heineken Cup bow this weekend.
The Chiefs take on Leinster in Europe's premier cup competition on Saturday, but the Baxters, Rob and Richard, were integral to Exeter rugby long before such occasions were a conceivable dream.
While Rob Baxter is widely regarded as one of the Aviva Premiership's most astute head coaches, his brother, despite doing so much of the heavy lifting in the Chiefs' back row, rarely gets the credit that he deserves.
However, Rich Baxter's performance against Harlequins last weekend was so significant that Rob felt compelled to speak. "Richie is one of these guys who is very under-rated in what he does for the team," said Baxter the elder.
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"He is normally our top contact guy, if you add up tackles, carries, clear-outs. If he doesn't top it, he is normally second or third every week.
"Richie is one of these guys who completely glues the team together. I think he is a much better player than he gets credit for, and part of that is probably because I can't shout in the press about him every week because he is my brother.
"Everybody asks me about the other players and not about him, but the reality is I think he has been one of the form back-rowers in the Premiership for the two or three years we have been there."
The No.8 made his Chiefs debut away to Fylde in the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two back in October 1997 as a teenager.
"He's got a big future ahead of him," said then Exeter manager Roy Henderson in an interview with the Western Morning News. Rarely in rugby has there ever been a bigger understatement.
Baxter still thinks his younger sibling has plenty more to give at 34 years of age, after his exceptional performance against Quins.
He said: "He is over 30 now and it seems like he was already past his best by the time we started in the Premiership – I don't think that is true.
"I hope he keeps going for a long time because he has got a great engine; he is a strong guy and he absolutely revelled in it out there on Saturday.
"It was a hot day and a firm pitch, and he enjoyed every moment of it."
Asked what to make of such high praise from the man who knows him best, Rich Baxter responded with a playful 'Cheers bro!' He then added: "I think he might have been a bit biased there.
"I suppose the way I look at it is playing for Exeter has always been what I've wanted to do. From starting off very young, it was always about getting into the first team.
"That has continued throughout my career, it has always been about playing for Exeter, and I always look forward to playing in the games.
"It is nice to be playing with a bunch of guys like this, everybody is great here. We all enjoy each other's company and playing together."
The respect between the Baxters is mutual. Rob led the club into the top flight of English rugby and will be forever remembered in the club's history, both as a formidable lock and as their most successful coach.
Rich said: "What Rob has achieved since he has been head coach is there on paper, really. He is doing a great job and we have a great back-room staff. We are all working hard and trying to get better, and that's the main thing.
"We never sit back on our laurels and think it is good enough. It is about progressing and wanting to keep getting better – that's what we've got at the moment."