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

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Getty Images)

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.

“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. 

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“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.

“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. 

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“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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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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