Younger Baxter determined to keep improving in his 17th year at Exeter
Exeter Chiefs back row Richard Baxter may be entering into his 17th calendar year at the club, but he is as determined as ever to continue improving in 2013.
The younger brother of head coach Rob Baxter made his debut against Fylde in October 1997 and has seen incredible progress that few could have foreseen.
Those big changes have come through constant, gradual improvement over a long period of time.
It was therefore no surprise when Richard Baxter called for more of the same from his club as yet another new year arrives. "In 2013, I think we want to carry on along similar lines," he said. "We want to improve and not sit back, thinking we are there.
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"If we start seeing ourselves as safe in the Premiership, you can come unstuck.
"It is important we keep striving to get better and improve generally. That tends work well for us."
The Baxters have not allowed their great success, or even their setbacks, to affect them. Exeter's excellent record in the run-up to Christmas stalled with a narrow defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm and a draw with Bath at Sandy Park last weekend.
Tomorrow's Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton Saints could be crucial in determining the outcome of the Chiefs' third season in the top flight.
"We have had some big games over these last few weeks – that is what being in the Premiership is about," said Richard Baxter.
"We have been performing really well and not quite getting the results. This Saturday is another chance for us to perform well.
"I don't think we really got hold of the game in the first half against Bath.
"Playing against Northampton, that is one really important thing we have to do – we have to take the game to them and look to impose our physicality on them.
"They will be trying to do the same to us because that is the sort of team they are, very physical. It is going to be a tough ask, but it is one we are looking forward to.
"We have talked about this period of the season and how important it is to pick up points and be in all the games until the end. We have been doing that and have taken points. That is important. It has been small margins in games, but that has created opportunities to win games.
"A lot of the games in this league are tight at this time of the year. We just need to look to perform well and carry on doing things well and training well to get that little bit extra."
Northampton are one point and one position above the Chiefs in sixth spot. Even fourth-placed Gloucester are only three points better off than the Devon club.
Such statistics make this weekend even more important to Baxter and his men.
"It always adds a little bit more spice when you are playing the teams around you in the league," he said.
"Northampton will be physical, with their scrum and maul as well as their ball-carries. We have to be aware of those things but it is about us taking the game to them.
"If we can start the game well, hopefully it will be a good contest and we can win it."
The Chiefs hosted a capacity crowd at Sandy Park last weekend and Baxter says it is those high-pressure games in front of full houses that provide the most valuable lessons.
He said: "Our crowd make a lot of noise and it really helps. The atmosphere here is fantastic and we talk, as players, about how important it is to play well in the big occasions in front of big crowds – that's the best way for us to learn, through experiences like that."