Ali Hepher and Rob Baxter
Ali Hepher (left) and Rob Baxter have masterminded Exeter’s rise from the Championship to European champions

Exeter head coach Ali Hepher hopes a change in how the side is run can bring the club back to their former glories.

Hepher is to lead the matchday running of the side, with director of rugby Rob Baxter taking a more hands-off role with the two-time Premiership winners.

Exeter finished seventh last season, the first time they have missed out on a top two place since 2015.

“It’s a bit of a change of role, but something exciting to get on with,” Hepher told BBC Sport.

“We still sit across the desks and we’re talking through everything – he [Baxter] is very aware of everything that’s going on all the time.

“It’s a very simple relationship in that we both work incredibly hard, we’re both comfortable sharing our opinions and we’ll work through what the best way is to solve problems and get to the solutions that we want.”

‘We’re always looking to improve’

Ali Hepher
Hepher hopes Exeter can improve on a seventh-placed finish last season – they have only finished lower twice in their 12 Premiership seasons

Hepher, 47, was part of the Northampton side that won the Heineken Cup in 2000 and has worked alongside Baxter since he took over at Sandy Park in 2009.

The pair helped Exeter win promotion from the Championship the following year before establishing the side in the top flight – they won their first Premiership title in 2017 before becoming English and European champions three years later.

Initially responsible for Exeter’s attack, Hepher became head coach in 2017 and has been integral as Exeter made six successive Premiership finals before last season.

“We’re not just a stagnant coaching team, we’re always looking to improve and improve our game,” Hepher added.

“The game’s moved on, it doesn’t need a coaching change to move things on in that front, but having a different eye on it and a different opinion and bringing a different energy to the group will certainly be beneficial.

“We’re pleased with where we’ve coached this pre-season, we’ve worked really well and had a really good pre-season compared to previous years, and the guys are in a much better mind space as a result of that.”

Exeter’s downturn last season came after a raft of injuries to frontline players, coming off the back of two difficult pre-seasons.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant the club had just two weeks between their double win of 2020 and starting the new domestic season, while the 2021-22 campaign began with top players missing due to the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

“The reality and the nature of sport is no-one has kept on that run that we were on, being in that top two and competing hard for finals for six or seven years, no-one sustains it forever,” Hepher said.

“What it did provide us with was a real opportunity to reset, look at ourselves, look at what we do, look at how we run our pre-season, our training weeks.

“We’ve had a really good bit of time to review the whole set-up and how we do go about things, and hopefully come up with a better version.

“But the system wasn’t broken. The system was the same that produced a double-winning side, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t throw everything out, but we’ve still got to keep being fussy and picky about the things that niggle at us – if they’re not quite working let’s change them, let’s find a solution.”

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