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'A golden period...': Exeter's post-Lions view of new dad Simmonds

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Getty Images)

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Sam Simmonds is back in the mix at Exeter following his Lions tour but the only conversations his coach Rob Baxter is having with the back-rower at the moment is about fatherhood after the soon-to-be 27-year-old became a dad to a new-born girl last weekend. Lions players have been filtering into Gallagher Premiership action in recent weeks following the tour to South Africa.

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Exeter started Stuart Hogg at full-back in their win at Sale last Sunday and the expectation is that Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Simmonds, the club’s other three Lions, will be considered for next Saturday’s match at home to Worcester. 

Simmonds, though, has been very busy on the home-front ahead of that potential matchday return where he will be looking to build on last season’s record-breaking campaign. The No8 scored 21 tries in 23 Premiership outings, shattering the previous record mark of 17. 

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That strike rate caught the eye of Warren Gatland, who included Simmonds in the Lions squad even though he hadn’t played Test rugby for England since March 2018. He had since been included in the England squad, attending a mini-training camp in London last week. 

At the time of the Simmonds recall, Eddie Jones explained: “We asked him to go away and look at his game and he has been progressing well. He did that last season and therefore he has got an opportunity to put his best foot forwardHe has improved parts of his game, particularly how hard he is over the ball. He has improved that aspect of his game and he is also finding the ball a bit more in unstructured play. There has been some nice development in his game.”

It is at Exeter in the coming weeks where Simmonds will now get the chance to polish these developments ahead of the autumn internationals, but it is not as if he has arrived back for work at Sandy Park and sat down for long reflective chats with coach Baxter about a Lions tour where his involvement in the three-game Test series was restricted coming off the bench in the deciding third Test, a match where the result tipped the way of the Springboks.

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“The only conversation I have had with Sam has been about his little girl that was just born at the weekend and how he has been getting on with being a dad,” said Baxter. “That is what is important here and now, how his time is going there. How is everything going at home, is he feeling ready to play? That is the conversation we had. 

“We don’t spend hours and hours and hours dwelling stuff outside the club, that is away from what is very important to us. I don’t need to sit down and analyse his Lions situation with him. I have spoken to him about it and he said he enjoyed the experience. 

“It was a shame it was pretty much a lockdown bubble because one of the things other than playing and winning games and Test matches which is kind of what it is about the other part of it is being a part of a genuine Lions tour. That is probably the defining thing you remember as much as anything else in your career when you look back so he was unfortunate he missed out on that part of it. 

“He was disappointed with that but on the whole, he had a good last year. It led to the Lions call-up, it led to him being named in this provisional 45-man (England) EPS squad. Everything that has happened is all on an upward trajectory for Sam and that is what we are going to keep discussing with him. He is on the way up, he is having a golden period and he has got to keep driving that for as long as he can.

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“He is gaining experience in everything all the time, playing in bigger and bigger games all the time. He has been involved in different squads which, if used in the right way, you can learn a lot from them good and bad and sifting through that is very important. 

“And also it gains confidence in your overall ability and your overall standing in the game and the things you can achieve. Everything I have seen with Sam is just positive on positive and that is all we are focused on. We are focused on where we can keep driving the positives in his game.”

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