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The Exeter verdict on Borthwick's England overlooking Sam Simmonds

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Chris Lee/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Rob Baxter has shared his thoughts on how Sam Simmonds is coping with his difficult England situation. The Exeter back-rower played in all four of his country’s Test matches during the Autumn Nations Series, starting against Japan and New Zealand and appearing off the bench against Argentina and South Africa.

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That block of matches was the last hurrah of the Eddie Jones era and Simmonds has since found himself further down the pecking order under new head coach Steve Borthwick. Unlike the completely surplus Billy Vunipola, with whom he shared game time during November, Simmonds has at least been named in the start-of-week 36-man England squads throughout the Guinness Six Nations.

However, he was only retained for two days of training for all three of the February match weeks and that same situation materialised this week when Simmonds learned on Tuesday that he would be heading back to Exeter rather than take any further part in the preparations for Saturday’s round four England match at home to France.

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It can’t be an easy position for Simmonds, to be so close and yet so far away from England selection, and it could well be that his Test career will end with a whimper as he won’t be eligible to be picked by Borthwick once he starts his new-season contract at Montpellier in the Top 14.

Yet, whatever frustration he feels about his international level circumstances, Simmonds’ attitude towards Exeter has apparently been top notch. “Personally, he is dealing with it well,” said Chiefs boss Baxter.

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““He is mad keen to play. I get a phone call from him the minute he knows what his England involvement is, and he always just says, ‘I’m raring to go, I’ll be in training tomorrow, please select me, I am ready to go, and I will perform to the best of my ability’.

“He is definitely saying all the right things and his performances overall have been good, he is training and the way he has been talking to players is good. He has been dealing with it really well.”

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In stark contrast to how Simmonds has been treated by England, Henry Slade is certainly back in favour after a November where he was only deemed good enough by Jones to bench for all four matches. Under Borthwick, Slade has started at outside centre against Italy and Wales, with a third successive start expected to be confirmed on Thursday for this weekend’s match against France.

“It’s well deserved for Henry,” reckoned Borthwick. “He started the season really well and by starting the season well you have got that block of games, that block of performances behind you which stands you in good stead and it’s a little bit once you get in it’s for you to perform and to grab things.

“He has done that very well. He is one of the guys who is fully committed to what we do at the club here and those guys you want to see them do extremely well when they get into the international squad as well.”

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Flankly 4 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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