By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
Exeter boss Rob Baxter has backed the decision to release Harlequins star Marcus Smith from England duty for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership clash against the Chiefs.
Smith has played under nine minutes of Test rugby across the last two Guinness Six Nations games after starting England’s tournament opener against Scotland on February 4.
England captain Owen Farrell was the fly-half in Six Nations appointments with Italy and Wales, while Smith found himself reduced to brief cameos as a replacement.
Smith was then omitted from a 26-man group for this week’s England training camp in Brighton, losing out to a fit-again George Ford.
And while England head coach Steve Borthwick insists that Smith will return for preparations to face France on Saturday week, his place in the matchday 23 now looks under serious threat.
Smith looks set to line up for Quins when Exeter arrive at Twickenham, and Baxter said: “The reality is that Marcus Smith needs to play. He has not played that much.
“Despite the howls of derision from pretty much every area of the press, it seems like very good management to me to let him go and play some rugby.
“I am not necessarily pleased he has been let back to play some rugby!
“But I don’t think it is the wrong thing for him to get out and get back to his club and play some rugby.
“He is still a young player, and the one thing you know young players want to do is to be on the field and playing.
“It is the right management of him to get him playing again.”
Exeter head to south-west London in fifth place, one point adrift of the play-off zone with six Premiership games left.
Four of those fixtures are away from home, though, with the Chiefs having claimed just one league victory on their travels this term, beating Bristol five months ago.
Baxter added: “We haven’t had a great away record this season. We’ve got the results at home, but haven’t picked up the away wins.
The battle for Top 4 is really starting to heat up 🔥
Here are the #GallagherPrem standings after Round 18 👏 pic.twitter.com/BUPZZd0CCs
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) February 26, 2023
“The table is going to shift week in, week out, and Saturday is a very important game.
“We have got to be open and honest about it. Unless we collect some points away from home, it is going to be a tough run-in for us.
“We have got ourselves in the (play-off) mix, and if we want to stay in the mix, we have to collect points and stop other teams collecting points.”