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'Whether his focus is to prove people right or wrong, whatever his driver is it's working very well for him'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Exeter have paid tribute to Sam Simmonds, the unwanted England back row who has been lighting up the Gallagher Premiership scoring charts this season with a flurry of tries following his latest snub by Test boss Eddie Jones. Simmonds has scored nine tries in his eight league outings this term with defending champions Exeter, four more than next-best Paolo Odogwu of Wasps and Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt.


So prolific is his scoring, his 45 points had him listed in seventh spot in the league’s most points category, which is supposed to be dominated by place-kickers, going into this weekend’s round nine games.

In making 309 metres from his 94 carries, the Premiership’s December player of the month has beaten 17 defenders and made eight clean breaks while his tackle completion is running at 95 per cent, 74 tackles made and just the four missed. 

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RugbyPass Offload reflects on last week’s Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland
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RugbyPass Offload reflects on last week’s Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland

This rich vein of form, though, hasn’t been rewarded by the sniff of a look-in with England as the last of his seven caps continues to be the March 2018 Six Nations loss to Ireland at Twickenham.

The 26-year-old Simmonds suffered serious injury since then, an ordeal which he spoke openly about to RugbyPass in April 2019, but he returned with a bang, scoring nine tries as Exeter won last season’s Heineken Champions Cup and ten tries to help his team become Premiership champions. 

Overall, Simmonds has a prolific career try-scoring record of 52 tries in 76 Test, Premiership and Champions Cup appearances compared to Billy Vunipola’s 32 tries in 208 Test, Premiership and Champions Cup appearances – yet Simmonds is playing for Exeter at Sandy Park this Saturday while Vunipola, an out-and-out Jones favourite, runs out at Twickenham again as the preferred No8 despite his latest below-par performance in last week’s loss to Scotland.


How long more this strike rate of Simmonds can be ignored, who knows? What is clear is that Rob Baxter is revelling in seeing his No8 play so dominantly week after week after week. “What it comes down to is how they perform at the weekend and what he [Simmonds] has shown is that he is dealing with it exceptionally well,” said Baxter when quizzed by RugbyPass this week about his player’s stellar form and his ongoing non-selection by England.

“Whether his focus is to prove people right or to prove people wrong, whatever his driver is it’s working very well for him because he is performing very well in some tough games for us.

“What you see with Sam is he massively complements the rest of that (Exeter) pack of forwards, he complements the make-up of that back row, he complements the make-up of the back five of the scrum and he complements the make-up of the pack of a whole and he complements us as a team.

“That is what you need, you want each one of your 15 guys who are on the field to have a key role. They have obviously got to be an all-round rugby player, which Sam is because he gets talked about a lot as an attacker and as a ball-carrier and as a try-scorer but he is actually a very good defender. 


“If you watch the quality of some of his collisions last weekend (at Newcastle) there is no way anyone is going to turnaround and say he is not a big defender as well. It’s that explosive raw power and speed that contributes to what he gives to the team as a back row forward,” continued Baxter, who team’s recent form suggests they have overcome the two league defeats they suffered in early January.

“As an example, having him work off the base of the scrum gives you great options in attack. In particular close to the opposition line, our five-metre attack does rely on power ball carriers over short distances which he is very good at so he scores in that area.

“And obviously if you set up any kind of a maul or a driving game you want the ball to be in the hands of the person who can make something happen if that maul breaks down or if it needs that final surge of power to get you over that last metre or so. 

“He slots into filling all those roles really well and what we try to do with Sam is make sure we get the ball in his hands as much as possible because he has got the attributes that get him over a try line. That is what you do if you have got an attribute, you get the ball in that person’s hands.

“The challenge for any team when it has won trophies is not to hang in there and try and win it again, the challenge is how many players can have that season’s best tally in everything because that will ultimately drive you to another successful year. 

“We talked to the players a lot about this. I said they need to have their best individual season this season because that is our best way of winning anything so if Sam has his best individual season as a try scorer, that is what gives us the best opportunity of winning a trophy at the end of the season. If you just try and have a season like last year we will go backwards, so it should be about individual targets and it should be about individual records, that is the way it should be.”


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