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The players set to profit from Wales' new gameplan

With the Pivac era now a distant memory, Warren Gatland has a rich seam of talent to select from in the Six Nations

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'I sit on the couch as a fan, I'm very patriotic about Australia'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Some players can’t bear to watch the Test team they were once so heavily involved with. For instance, it was just a few months ago on RugbyPass that Brian O’Driscoll – who last played in 2014 – revealed how he skipped the 2018 Ireland win over the All Blacks in Dublin, heading home after hosting an in-town pre-game function rather than attending the game with luncheon guests he had just entertained.

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In the case of Rob Simmons, though his separation seems to have only made the London Irish-based forward’s heart grow fonder about Australia. It was December 2020 when he won the last of his 106 Test caps with the Wallabies, bowing out with a win over Argentina in Parramatta to end an epic journey that began against the Springboks in Brisbane in July 2010.

Aged just 33, Simmons is still thought of as a potential Australia call-up – a recent shortage of available locks even ignited speculation that Dave Rennie could be dialing a London-located +44 number for a dig-out on the just-finished European tour that took in Edinburgh, Paris, Florence, Dublin and Cardiff.

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However, playing Test rugby simply isn’t on the veteran’s radar, his preference being to spend time with his recently extended family and enthusiastically cheer on Australia from the sanctuary of his couch without the ifs, buts and maybes that he could still be out there, putting in a quality shift for his country.

“I sit on the couch watching it as a fan and I love that aspect,” explained Simmons to RugbyPass about his enduring joy for the Wallabies. “I guess because I am still playing and you see certain elements of the game a lot different to a guy who does just sit on the couch but I love watching, I am very patriotic about watching Australia. Win, lose or draw I will always support them with a full heart.

Simmons Australia Irish move verdict
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“There are elements (that you do miss) when you get to represent your country. That is a hard thing to make up anywhere else, isn’t it? But, yeah, that time away, it [not playing Test footy] is the right decision for my family. That was a main driving force behind the move to England. I know there are more days (of rugby) a year but if you look at it, London Irish only play Exeter, Newcastle and Manchester (Sale) away.

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“In the whole competition that is three nights a year away. Down in Australia, you are looking at a third of the year, 180 days away from your family, away from your home. That is tough with a young family. I’m definitely happy with the move.

“From a family point of view, we love it and there is not much we can complain about. Maybe the weather but apart from that, there are a lot worse things in life,” he enthused, going on to confirm the arrival not so long ago of his family’s third child. “Yes, we did (have an addition), 18 weeks ago.”

Thing is, as much Simmons remains attached to the Wallabies in terms of his interest in their matches lately, he has yet to properly reflect on the longevity of his own stellar contribution, a stint that spanned three World Cups and a Lions tour to leave him signing off as the tenth most capped Australia player of all time.

“I probably don’t think about it enough but as you do get older people do mention it more and more and you don’t get much time to reflect while you are still playing but in the future, there will be a time that will really sink in but it probably hasn’t sunk in yet,” he figured.

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“Watching the autumn tours and watching Australia play, it does excite me and it’s good fun. It is a moment of my career that I will always reflect back on about the good times I had and the people I met and the experiences we got to do at the time.”

Just four months shy of his 34th birthday in April, a brand new experience awaits the seasoned Simmons next Friday. Not since January 2012 have London Irish featured in a Heineken Champions Cup match but that famine turns into a feast with the arrival in Brentford of Top 14 champions Montpellier, a salivating opener followed by a round two trip to the Stormers in South Africa.

“I know it is huge and it means a lot to our fans. I didn’t know that it was a decade, but I do know it’s pretty much been a decade since the success of this club being in those finals and things like that (the 2009 Premiership decider against Leicester and the 2008 European semi versus Toulouse).

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A post shared by Rob Simmons (@robsimmons)

“As it is now coming close it is building and there is a buzz. One, that we are up in the Champions Cup. And then two, that this whole European competition is a fantastic concept. You get to challenge yourself against teams you don’t know next year you are going to play in the competition, so it is one moment in time and next week for us it is Montpellier.”

London Irish head into Europe with a home Premiership win over Newcastle this weekend, just their second success in nine outings. Losing five on the bounce since their October 1 win over Bath was a frustration that left them bottom of the now eleven-team league, an annoyance exacerbated by them performing well – their last four defeats were by two, five, two and one-point margins.

A dicky ankle meant Simmons sat out Saturday’s end to that barren Premiership run, but the hope is that a prosperous winter is about to unfold. “Unfortunately, you probably look at that (table) and go, ‘They must not be playing good footy and must be terrible’, but that reflection is not how we have played.

“We have played some very nice, attractive rugby and if we did that more consistently we probably… there were narrow losses and with three more points in a lot of those games, we could be at the total other end of the table, so we are very close but unfortunately too many are on the wrong side.

“We probably just need to make better decisions about yes, we love to play, that is part of our brand and that is what we do, but at times the scoreboard is king and we need to be in front on that so it’s weighing up what is important and how are we going to get the win and making those decisions.

“Is it the right one? You never know at the time and that is what we are trying to figure out I guess, what is the best way to get points on the board? The spirits are high. We all know we are a pretty good team and we are so very close, so the belief is still there within the camp.”

What about Simmons’ own current form? “I have been playing some of my best footy actually. I have been doing a lot of work on my tackle and in defence, and adding to a forward pack with my experiences through that brings some good stuff around the breakdown as well.

“I have probably been playing on that edge a little bit, I have received two yellow cards which I am not happy about and that is not great for me. That probably comes with trying to push the edge of things like that. Some of them are very debatable how they actually happen but the referee is the referee.

“I’ve had two of them. If you look at intent, there is no intent in either. One of them is very debatable I believe and the other is a result of an unfortunate event, a head contact which is something I never go out to do and you can even tell if you look at the images, it’s just an unlucky rugby incident where the way the game is ruled at the moment is if you touch the heard you’re off.”

This card trouble Simmons has encountered at London Irish is uncharacteristic compared to his behaviour before arriving in the Premiership. There were only two yellow cards in his 13 Super Rugby years with the Reds and the Waratahs, yet he picked up two yellows this season for Irish versus Northampton and Harlequins in his second and seventh appearances, adding to two other yellows he got since debuting in England in January 2021. That’s annoying.

“I was saying to someone on the weekend I have got a clean record. But I’m looking at two yellow cards in one season and if you get another one, I could be spending a week on the sideline which is very, very frustrating from my point of view.

“That [tackling] is a debate about the game, it’s probably in the media a lot at the moment but I don’t want to talk about that. The game is as it is and it’s up to as players to do the adjustment more. I don’t think there is enough of us adjusting to the game.

“That could be (a factor) in our results as well. Are we adjusting to the game that actually needs to be played as opposed to saying, ‘We play really good rugby, we should win’? We need to adjust and play the game that needs to be played.”

That game at Irish is now unfolding with two more busy yappers at scrum-half finding their voice with Nick Phipps, Simmons’ old Wallabies colleague, having exited for the Japanese league. “Ben White has been quite a chatty guy, especially on the field. He is good around the locker room but on the field, he is an ultimate competitor. He just loves competing for every moment and that is very good.

And we have got Joe Powell making his way. He had a rough start, he got injured in the pre-season but wants to come into a new team for him, wants to impress and let his actions do his speaking. That has been tough for him but he has been playing really the last couple of games because he has had a couple of opportunities. If he pushes on there will be good, healthy competition in that position.”

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