Simmonds 'excited' ahead of Euro clash
By Neale Harvey
Exeter Chiefs fly-half Joe Simmonds believes last season’s double-winning experience is crucial as he prepares to lead his men into Heineken Champions Cup battle against Lyon this Saturday (5:30pm).
Having scraped into the last 16, defending champions Chiefs received a huge boost by being handed a home tie against the Top 14 side, with a potential quarter-final showdown against Leinster or Toulon to follow a week later if they overcome that first hurdle.
Simmonds, who lifted last year’s trophy after Exeter’s dramatic final victory over Racing 92, told The Rugby Paper: “It’s definitely an exciting prospect. We watched the draw as a squad and have never come up against Lyon before, so this is a good challenge.
“From playing Toulouse and Racing last year, the thing that stands out about French sides is their running game and they’re very good at offloads going into contact. They keep the ball moving, which is something we like to do at Exeter but those French sides definitely seem to have a lot of threats all across the board. We’ll have to be very switched on there but if we can just focus on ourselves and if we’re firing like we know we can, we’re going to be a very hard team to beat.”
Simmonds adds: “Experience-wise, last season definitely helps. Before the final last year our excuse in Europe was that we hadn’t played too many games of that magnitude, but there’s no excuse now because we’ve been in those big games and won them.
“The good thing is we’re still a relatively young squad but we’ve had these players for the last four years so we’ve played in enough finals now. There’s no excuse for us not to move forward again and that’s definitely a good thing at this stage of the season.”
Two rounds of Europe will be followed closely by a Premiership trip to ambitious Bristol Bears, who have been vocal in their desire to knock Chiefs off their perch.
Simmonds welcomes the challenge, saying: “That’s good, we need that and the league needs that as well. You can see with the top four now that it’s going to be a tight league and the team that’s the most consistent from now on will come out on top.
“Teams like Bristol are targeting us and if we’d been coming up against sides in the past that had been successful, you definitely go harder into those games. We spoke about it and knew what was coming, so it means preparing well and being very consistent.
“The good thing is that despite having a lot of internationals out for long periods, we’re sitting second and we’ve put ourselves in a good place. Those guys are coming back now and we’ll have others back after injury, so there’s a lot for us to look forward to.”
Having been namechecked by England boss Eddie Jones during the week as one of the half-backs he may look at this summer, Simmonds knows a string of stellar displays could be enough to propel him into summer matches against the USA and Canada.
“I’d obviously love to be involved,” he added. “You can’t look too far ahead because I’ve still got to play well for Exeter, but if I’m doing that and being consistent in big games towards the end of the season, I’ll hopefully put my hand up for selection.”