In conversation with: Sam Simmonds
Joshua Hughes, Editor-in-Chief, sat down with Exeter Chiefs and England star, Sam Simmonds. They spoke about facing the All Blacks, the crazy final ten minutes and Simmonds’ overall experience inside the England camp.
Joshua Hughes: So Sam, it was your first time playing against the All Blacks, what was it like facing the haka?
Sam Simmonds: Yeah, it was cool. You know growing up, I loved watching the All Blacks, I used to go to my dad’s house early in the morning to watch. I can’t remember what tests they were, but they would always be Saturday morning tests and watching haka growing up was amazing. To be able to face it, I never thought I’d get that opportunity to stand in front of it. So, on that level it was amazing. But it kind of passes you by a little bit, because you’re focused on your job. I mean when you’re watching it and you have no attachment to the game, it’s amazing. But then, once you’re facing it, it’s just another thing that happens in the lead-up to the game.
JH: What was your perspective of what happened in the last 10 minutes?
SS: Yeah, I was off the field at that point, but I felt like once we scored that first try – I think it was Will Stuart’s first try – I looked at some of the boys and I was like it could be on here – what comeback it was.
That doesn’t take away from that we were disappointed with how we performed for the majority of the first half and some of the second half as well. But the character and the belief and the confidence to perform that way when you’ve pretty much got 9 or 10 minutes to go against the All Blacks and you’re 3 scores down. I don’t think many people in Twickenham believed that we would have drawn the game. But once we scored that first try, you know I was genuinely thinking that we could be on there. So yeah – what way to finish the game?
JH: And how was the post-match debrief? What areas the need most attention?
SS: Yeah, we were disappointed in how we went about the game. It’s not how we prepared. We prepared very well last week, warmed up well. I think our mindset was right, but I feel like we’re just off in some areas. We gave them set piece start points, we gave them ins through ill-discipline and penalties early in the game. That just allowed them to come at us and put their game on to us rather than the other way around. We spoke about the forward pack – the scrum and maul weren’t great and coming up against South Africa this weekend, it’s going to have to be a lot better than what it was on the weekend. Because obviously New Zealand’s scrum is very good, their maul attack is very good, but you come up against something different against South Africa. So, it’s going to have to be a lot better. We’ve talked about that; we’ve had honest conversations about what errors we need to work on and how we can attack the South Africans.
JH: How do you feel facing up against the back row made-up of Kolisi, Mostert and Evan Roos?
SS: I’ve come up against Kolisi before and played against Mostert. I haven’t played against Roos before, but I know obviously he’s a big ball carrier and he’s very quick for a big man. Coming up against any South African pack, they’re very confrontational and they’re very physical. They want to bully you and they want to get an up obviously in the scrum and the maul because those are the areas that they’re renowned for being very good at. So for us, it’s about having a plan to be physical in those areas – we want to combat those areas and be a lot better than we were last week and take away their strengths and try and turn them into weaknesses. Coming up against South Africa you know that when they kick penalties out, they’re going to maul it. We don’t want to give them these start points. We want to limit them as much as we can. There are going to be times that they do get them, but we want to limit them as much as we can and that will be done through keeping the ball on the pitch when we kick, and through discipline as well – not giving them penalties to kick out.
JH: You normally start at eight for chiefs. Do you think it makes a big difference playing out of position at six?
SS: I don’t think it makes any difference at all. You know, I feel like your back row play as a team anyway – as a three. Your open side in the past has been more of a fetcher and more of a first phase clear out. But I feel like when we set up and we attack there are always different roles for different players and you’re never going to be in that exact position just because you’re playing six or just because you’re playing at eight. I enjoyed the balance. I enjoyed playing with Cuzza (Tom Curry) and Billy (Billy Vunipola) on the weekend. Obviously it cuts out a line out option, with me and Billy being less of jumpers – Curry’s not short but he’s not the tallest so you have to work around that. I don’t think it’s a problem – people might see it as a problem. But you know when you’ve got Maro (Maro Itoje) and Johnny Hill last weekend, they’re unbelievable ball winners. It’s just about being smart in that area when we do play with a back row that’s not got the best jumping options.
JH: How do you reflect on the Autumn Nations Series campaign so far?
SS: I think the Argentina game was a bit of a low for us, but I feel like we reacted, and we got better after that week. We know that’s not England’s standard and that’s not where we want to be. But we’re building towards some big performances, I felt like in patches against New Zealand it was the best we’ve played for a while. But also in patches it was probably the worst we’ve played for a while. The Japan game was a massive improvement. I felt like the 15 the 23, the direction we headed in that game was very good. I felt like our attack functioned very well and I felt like in defence that we were very dominant and that’s where we want to be. And you know, like I said, win or lose against South Africa, I feel like we’ve taken a step forward from the Six Nations last year. I know we had a good campaign in Australia and took a step forward then and I feel like we’re getting better as a group and becoming stronger. We’ve spent some good time with this core group now and that’s going to stand us in good stead for when we do come towards the World Cup and the Six Nations as well. You spend a lot of time together and you want to build these relationships together and that’s going to help you on the pitch. So yeah, obviously we’re looking to win on Saturday that’s the main thing we want to finish this campaign off with a win and I think will be disappointed if we don’t.
JH: What’s the best night out in Exeter?
SS: So Timepiece is the one that we would probably go to the most when we go out. They’ve been great to us over the last few years, you know they love having us in there. I think we’re pretty limited on the size of Exeter, it’s not a huge city, is it? Although I do think it is a good night out scene, the uni students make it a good night and we do have some fun on those nights. But yeah, Timepiece is our go-to.
JH: Who’s the worst to share a room with in camp?
SS: The worst for me is anyone that snores horrendously. Tom Curry I’ve shared with him, and he snored really badly so that would be the worst. But I’ve heard Will Stewart is awful. I’ve not shared with him because I complained to our team manager and said I can’t sleep with anyone that snores because I’ll have a horrendous night as soon as I know someone snores. I won’t be able to sleep. But yeah, for me, Tom is a bad snorer. In general, he’s a good roommate. But as soon as someone snores its hell. I’ve been rooming with Hugh Tizard this campaign. Good roomy, quite quiet, I think he’s a little bit nervous. I’ve had some bad ones. Nick Dolly snored so bad when I shared with him. Anyone that snores for me is not good.