Does Exeter's in-form No 8 Sam Simmonds have what it takes to mix it at international level?

Simmonds is blessed with pace to burn and the footwork of a centre, but will his relative lack of bulk lead to Eddie Jones overlooking him for a place in the England team?

Simmons has impressed in the Premiership this season
Simmons has impressed in the Premiership this season

As Exeter Chiefs No8 Sam Simmonds scorched in for the fifth try of what is turning into a watershed season for the Torquay-born youngster veteran BBC broadcaster Ian Robertson contended England selection could soon be on the horizon.

His fellow commentator, former England and British Lions centre Jeremy Guscott, scoffed at the suggestion, pointing to the fact that at 102 kilograms – or 16 stone 1lb – in old money, Simmonds would be dwarfed by the hulking giants of the international game.

Despite having pace to burn and the footwork of a centre Guscott argued that, in a game which once claimed to played by ‘all shapes and sizes’, Simmonds simply doesn’t have the bulk to mix it with the big boys.

Eddie Jones will name his squad for the upcoming autumn internationals on October 26 and, with Billy Vunipola (130 kg), Nathan Hughes (125kg) and Jack Clifford (111kg) all currently side-lined by injury, the England head coach will be casting his eye around the Aviva Premiership for a No8 in waiting.

Simmonds, who produced a superb 70 minutes of dynamic back-row forward play against Newcastle on Saturday to briefly sit back on the top of the table, appears to fit the bill, although whether he fits Jones’s vision of a modern-day international No8 remains to be seen.

“On a good day I’m probably 102-103kg,’ said Simmonds on Saturday following his man-of-the-match display. ‘It is a bit of a struggle to keep on the weight. I used to look at it a lot and think Christ I have to be 104-105kg to play international rugby but the more experience you get and the more times I have played against bigger players it is not always about your weight.

“I am happy playing at the weight I am at the moment, which is around 100kg. If I am playing well I don’t take too much notice of how heavy I am.”

Simmonds has been in promising form this season

Wasps 86kg winger Christian Wade, consistently the most potent attacking force in the Premiership over the past three seasons, has won just a solitary England cap, under Jones’s predecessor Stuart Lancaster in 2013, and it is impossible to conclude his non-selection has been based on anything other than his relative lack of bulk.

Time will tell if Jones takes the view that if you’re good enough you’re big enough but the omens are not great for Simmonds, despite his all-round excellence with ball in hand and outstanding work-rate.

Indeed, the try he scored before half time against Dean Richards Falcons – who surrendered top spot in the table to the defending champions – was straight out of the Guscott play book as he burned off the Newcastle defence on the outside before stepping back inside the cover for a wonderful individual score from long range.

Simmonds is relatively small for his position

“I played a bit of Colts rugby in the centre and wing,’ Simmonds said. ‘That is what I pride myself on being a little bit quicker than other back rows.

“I do like to work on my speed. It is a natural thing I have had since I was younger anyway. To be able to put it into my game and use my speed as a No 8 or in the wide channels. That’s where I am looking to pick up the carries. I’m trying to beat the tight five forwards with footwork and pace.”

Exeter are sweating on the fitness of their Lions winger Jack Nowell after he suffered a nasty gash below his left eye midway through the first half and was taken to hospital for scans after the game.

The Chiefs face Glasgow at Sandy Park in their opening European Champions Cup clash on Saturday night and will be keeping their fingers crossed Nowell’s facial injury does not prove too serious. Early indications were not too promising.

Defending European Champions Saracens will begin the defence of their title in rude health after demolishing injury-hit Wasps at Allianz Park on Sunday to move past Exeter at the top of the Premiership table.

England and Lions No2 Jamie George scored a hat-trick of tries to confirm his status as European rugby’s in-form hooker and hand Jones more food for thought ahead of the November internationals.

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