Sam Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs is challenged by Scott Baldwin of Harlequins – Image: Ryan Hiscott, www.jmpuk.com
It was tough, it was gritty and at times, not all that pretty.
However, Exeter Chiefs and England forward Sam Simmonds was full of praise for his team-mates after the Devonians kicked-off their new Gallagher Premiership campaign with victory over Harlequins at Sandy Park.
In a hard-fought encounter throughout, Rob Baxter’s men clung to a narrow 13-11 half-time lead, before eventually seeing off their London rivals 22-19 in a tense game of attrition and nerve.
“We’re really happy to come away with a win today, especially against a Quins side who are improving all the time,” said Simmonds. “It wasn’t our greatest performance out there as a team, but we’re happy to take the four points.”
After using the Premiership Rugby Cup as their build-up to the new campaign, it was a somewhat sluggish start to the game for the Chiefs who, ironically, will face Harlequins in the last four of the Cup in early February.
“We usually start very well in these games,” added Simmonds. “Harlequins really came out and attacked well in a lot of areas and started a lot better than us. That’s bad to say on our part, especially as we pride ourselves on coming out of the blocks fast.
“It’s uncharacteristic on our part and we’re normally a lot better than that. For us, we felt we needed to clear our heads and start focusing on what we normally do well. That’s carrying hard, putting in tackles and putting pressure on kicks.”
Harlequins made it no easy challenge for the Chiefs; three Marcus Smith penalties and two tries at the hands of Gabriel Ibitoye kept the score line uncomfortably close for the home side, who eventually managed to snuff out the threat come 80 minutes.
“Our set-piece wasn’t going as well as we wanted, but we managed to find our way into the game to get the result we wanted against a tough side,” continued Simmonds. “Although it wasn’t our strongest performance from a forwards perspective, we’ve got to look at the positives.”
The youngest of the Simmonds brothers, Joe, played a pivotal role in the Chiefs’ victory, slotting 17 of his side’s 22 points. And while Exeter are known for their clinical forward attacking methods, his older brother commended their ability to adapt to the game that presented itself.
Joe Simmonds, younger brother of Sam, converts his kick for Exeter after being awarded a penalty. Image- Ryan Hiscott, www.jmpuk.com
“I don’t think many people saw how good his goalkicking was last year,” said Simmonds. “We are renowned for going to the corner and scoring tries, but today we relied on him to kick his goals and ultimately win the game for us. It was good to see him perform well and to be back out there with him”.
With the Gallagher Premiership now well underway, the Chiefs now look to their next challenge, which comes this Friday with a testing trip to Bath, who themselves will be looking to bounce back after a heavy Round One defeat to Bristol Bears.
“It’s huge,” warned Simmonds. “They took a bit of a beating against Bristol so they’re going to be absolutely revved up for a huge game this week. They will be looking to put in a big performance at home, so we need to focus on that now and prepare for the next challenge.”
Ahead of kick-off, Director of Rugby Baxter will assess the fitness of former Bath winger Olly Woodburn, who was forced from the field on Saturday with what appeared a hamstring injury.
However, Baxter’s options could be further boosted with the fact that summer signing Stuart Hogg is now in situe and ready to play his part for his new club, whilst other first-team stars such as Sam Hill, Don Armand, Stu Townsend, Alex Cuthbert and Elvis Taione are all firmly back in the selection mix.