What happens when a wagon moves on, when the media war subsides and another player becomes the taste of the month? In the case of Sam Simmonds, recalled by England this season after more than three years out of the international picture, the urge to succeed has only grown stronger.
“Some people were just hung up on the story that ‘oh, he plays well for Exeter, Eddie Jones must have a problem with him,'” Simmonds says. I of the time he spent on winning trophies and breaking records with Exeter, yet he was unwanted by the national coach.
“But you look at the back row they chose – Courtney Lawes, Billy [Vunipola] and Tom Curry – and it’s not as simple as ‘you play well, you should play for England’. I knew in myself that I was playing well, I loved playing for Exeter.
“But the players England had there were world class. I’m not saying I did not feel I should have been involved. But it never really made me sad, I never got stuck in it.
“It’s more now that I’ve had a taste for being back involved, I would be disappointed to be left out of the Six Nations. It would be more of a downside than when a lot of people were talking about me.”
Simmonds speaks from his home just outside Exeter, ahead of what he describes as Exeter’s “must win” Europa Cup match with Glasgow on Saturday, rocking his little daughter in his arms. Billie’s arrival in early October gave her 26-year-old father a new perspective and may help explain Simmonds’ measured analysis, which includes an admission of what he should change when he finally returned to the English fold in November. autumn internationals, even though they only played 12 minutes across two substitution appearances in the victories over Australia and South Africa.
“It was a change of mindset to love training, which would then give me the best chance of being selected,” Simmonds says. “I love playing rugby – for Exeter, from when I was in Plymouth, and for Brixham and the Cornish Pirates. And training was always on the back burner, it was ‘oh yes, you have to train because it leads up to the fight’.
“But training in England is tough and you have to prepare daily to allow yourself to perform. Eddie likes a team that trains with such good intensity during the week that when you get to the game, it gives you the “Best opportunity to perform. Before, maybe when I was first involved, I did not understand.”
If Simmonds retains his place Jones’s Six Nations squad, to be named on Tuesday, it would be his first taste of the tournament since 2018. And the context has changed from when No. 8 with the foot speed and mobility of a very fast center helped Exeter win the league-and-European double in 2020 and scored a Premiership record with 21 attempts in the 2020-21 season, in which Simmonds was named player of the year in the competition and toured with the British and Irish Lions – an experience he rates as “nine out” at 10 “for enjoyment , tainted only by the lack of spectators.
“It’s true to say I was not quite ready when I played for England the first time, but I definitely feel ready now,” said Simmonds. “I have grown to the player I am, changed a few things and I have just had time in the saddle, put 100 matches together for Exeter and come back to where I was before a tough injury. [a knee reconstruction later in 2018]. “
Curry of Sale was England’s start No. 8 this fall, with Simmonds and another No. 8 in Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt on the bench, and the bigger Vunipola fell. And Jones has talked about winning teams winning more yards by running than by kicks, thanks to faster ruckball.
“I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed not to have more playing time, more influence in the games this fall,” Simmonds said. “But it was great to get on the pitch again. With ‘Dommers’ we are similar positions but very different in how we play, I learned from him and just enjoyed being in that environment.
“Eddie said there were five campaigns left before the World Cup, including the fall. I assume they want a core team that might be able to commit and get the boys used to training and playing together as much as they can.”
Meanwhile, Exeter’s results are up and down, including losses to Glasgow 22-7 in the reverse European match. But Simmonds says he saw welcome signs that the Chiefs rediscovered their desire and drive in defense and maulen and kick-hunting and the carrier during last week’s two-point loss at the Harlequins.
“Around the start of the season, we were hung up on last year’s results. The loss in the Premier League final was hard to take. We looked too far ahead, too soon. I feel like we’re back now to just focus on next week and not worry about who we could potentially play in a semifinal or a final. It’s something we’ve talked about – that this season can be a very special season, with how we go to the second half of it. “