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What Exeter make of Joe Simmonds the sub and not the starting No10

By Liam Heagney

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Rob Baxter has given his perspective about the delicate situation that has seen skipper Joe Simmonds only chosen on the Exeter bench in recent weeks following a disappointing start to the new Gallagher Premiership season. It wasn’t that long ago when there were demands that the 24-year-old was deserving of a call-up to Eddie Jones’ England squad.

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That hype has since been diluted, Marcus Smith winning their head-to-head battle in last June’s Premiership final and the Harlequins No10 has since gone on to play for England and the Lions. Meanwhile, Simmonds has unexpectedly slipped down the pecking order at the Chiefs. 

Whereas this time last year he was expertly leading them to Premiership and Champions Cup title glory when the delayed 2019/20 season was eventually played to a conclusion, Simmonds has now lost his place in his club’s starting line-up following the September league defeats to Leicester and Northampton.

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Baxter has since elected to go with the 23-year-old Harvey Skinner as his starting No10 in the successive wins over Sale, Worcester and Wasps. It is a considerable shake-up given that Skinner had only started in six of his previous 21 league appearances until this season and it has left Simmonds with fewer minutes on the field this term compared to his emerging rival for the Exeter starting spot (192 minutes to 243). 

Having benched Scotland captain Stuart Hogg for last June’s Premiership final and semi-final, Exeter coach Baxter isn’t shy in demoting star players to the Chiefs bench but he is liking the response that Simmonds has shown as a replacement in the wins that have helped the team climb to fourth in the Premiership following their awkward start.   

“He [Simmonds] has been very good, has been very good in meetings,” reported Baxter about his benched captain and No10. “He has certainly carried on being productive in the things he has done in and around training, his interaction with players have been very good. If anything he is probably stepping up that part of his game. 

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“He is one hundred per cent ready to go and actually all his contributions off the bench so far have been very good so he is on form as well in an odd kind of way. He has been left out of the team but he is actually on form if you watch him play. We have got a great couple of options there and we are just very pleased with how they are both going.

“It’s what you want – when you make a change you want that guy to play well and you want to win and that is exactly what has happened. Harvey has been reaping the rewards of that, he has been reaping the rewards of playing well himself and the team has been functioning well around him and that is all it is. When Joe is in a similar position we have stuck with Joe, but that doesn’t mean we are not open to making the odd change as well,” continued Baxter, who has since recalled Simmonds to the starting line-up for this Saturday’s game at home to London Irish.

“The one thing is when a player does step up to lead the team in positions like ten, especially when they are a younger player, sometimes it is good to give him a breather every now and again and try and keep everything on a real positive curve for them, almost give them a breather before a loss happens so to speak. So we are still considering that as well and we know Joe is a very good player, merits all the selections he has previously and will merit all the selections he has in the future as well.”

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What Exeter make of Joe Simmonds the sub and not the starting No10

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