A thunderous season for Sam Simmonds just got even better, with two tries for England on his Six Nations debut against Italy. Read what Rugby World had to say about the Chief ahead of this campaign
The fairytale continues for Sam Simmonds
The term commonly used is ‘meteoric’ – a player who bursts spectacularly on the scene, seemingly from nowhere. Little more than a year ago Sam Simmonds was on loan at Cornish Pirates and he had started just two Premiership matches before the start of this season. Now he is being rightly hailed as one of the stars of England’s opening Six Nations win over Italy, scoring two tries in Rome after getting his first taste of Test rugby during the November Internationals.
Rugby World would love to say we’re not surprised by his elevation, having identified him as a player to watch in our September issue. But even we didn’t anticipate the Exeter No 8’s heady rise to England honours in such a short period.
Such recognition is well deserved. His powerful thrusts and tremendous speed have helped emboss the 2017-18 campaign and to his 87 Premiership carries, 64 tackles and 24 defenders beaten, he has added five league tries. The stats stack up for this young Chief.
Here’s what we wrote about Sam in our Spotlight article before the start of the season…
It may just have been the defining image of last season’s Aviva Premiership. The moment when Exeter Chiefs, who had battered away at Saracens for most of their semi-final but found themselves down by three against the continent’s back-to-back champions, summoned one final giant effort and crashed over the line from a driving maul to book a place back at Twickenham.
As the pile of bodies untangled, replacement No 8 Sam Simmonds emerged as the try-scorer. “I was the only one who knew I’d scored when I stood up. It was just so mental how it happened,” says the 22-year-old.
“Knowing how good Saracens are and how they can finish off games, it was such a good performance to beat them. On the pitch it felt like you were already at Twickenham because of how loud the crowd was. But then Twickenham the week after was the pinnacle of my career so far.”
Simmonds has started just two Premiership matches and given the back-row riches at Sandy Park it might seem a brave call from Rugby World to say you’ll be seeing a lot more of this young man in the coming season.
But the dynamic Devonian brings sevens pace along with his power and has already scored three tries and set up two more in his sparse ration of league action. He may have started last season on loan at Cornish Pirates but since winning Man of the Match on his Premiership debut against Wasps in February, he has looked thoroughly at home at this level.
“I do feel comfortable playing in a system that I know,” he concedes. “You know what the people around you can do on the pitch, so you can focus on your role.
“But everyone runs harder, tackles harder, clears out harder and it’s a lot quicker than any other rugby I’ve played. The final was 40 minutes of us attacking with the ball. That’s why we’re doing the work now in pre-season, to be able to work longer than any other teams.”
At a shade over 16st (102kg), Simmonds is a far cry from the teenage beanpole who Jack Yeandle used to give lifts to as the pair travelled up from Teignmouth. At 17 Simmonds was training with Exeter’s senior squad and being put through twice-daily gym sessions to add bulk to his frame.
He was late coming to rugby, only committing properly at 14 having been an avid footballer and Liverpool fan. But if Steven Gerrard was a childhood hero, so too was Jonny Wilkinson and with his dad and uncle having played county rugby, he was more than happy to channel his energy into the oval-ball code. His dad David runs a fishing business, mum Nicola is a hairdresser and younger brother Joe is a fly-half at Exeter, having more ball skills than Sam but not his power or ability to get outside a defender.
Age 23 this week (10 Nov 1994)
Club Exeter Chiefs
Debut v London Welsh, 2011
Position No 8
Sam counts Teignmouth, Torquay Athletic, Pirates, Plymouth and Brixham – where he played after returning from a six-month knee lay-off – as former clubs, but it’s now Chiefs all the way.
“You don’t want to be the team that wins the Premiership and then finishes sixth. You’ve got to keep striving to do it again and again,” he points out.
“People are going to try to knock us down now. They know we’re going to drive and maul, know we’re going to pick and go, and obviously Tank (Thomas Waldrom) is very good at it. People know that’s coming but we’ve proved over the last two, three, four years that if we’re on song and doing it right they can’t stop you.
“We’ve not looked at changing anything, we’ve said, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’ll make it better’. We’re still carrying hard and using our driving maul.”
Simmonds went on holiday to LA and Las Vegas with his girlfriend Emily this summer, with a flight over the Grand Canyon a highlight, and watched a rerun of the extra-time final win over Wasps on his return.
Like his team-mates, he has parked that – “we’re not the champions now because it’s a new season” – and is intent on becoming a player too good for Chiefs to ignore. He has played at six a bit and seven a lot but is now fully focused on the No 8 role that maximises his ball-carrying opportunities.
“One of my work-ons concerns the quantity of carries. Tank in the final made 37 carries. They’re not always going to be barnstorming runs where he’s making line breaks but two or three will be and they’re the ones that count.
“Rob Hunter and Rob Baxter and Ali (Hepher) have all said that’s what I need to work on – getting my hands on the ball more to have an impact on the game. It’s almost trying to be greedy. Tank is a very good carrier, so he’ll work his way in to get near the ball – that’s what they want from him. Same as getting Nowellsy (Jack Nowell) into the game. He’s not someone to stand on his wing and wait for the ball to come to him, he’s a workhorse.”
It’s the Exeter way and, right now, the hallmark of English champions.