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By Neale Harvey
Straight-talking Sam Simmonds reckons England will have nobody to blame but themselves in South Africa this summer if they fail to right the wrongs of a shoddy Six Nations campaign.
Simmonds’ meteoric rise suffered a setback when he started for an England side that was largely outplayed by an accomplished Ireland outfit at Twickenham – a result that earned the Irish a Grand Slam and condemned the Red Rose to fifth place after a third straight defeat.
Different refereeing interpretations at the breakdown hampered England’s cause. However, Exeter back row Simmonds told The Rugby Paper: “It’s how you adapt. No referee is the same and there are always things that will go your way or not go your way over the 80 minutes.
“At Exeter we put a lot of onus on the fact that it doesn’t matter who the referee is or what the other team’s doing, if you’re not good enough you’re not going to win the game.
“If you start worrying about the referee, the weather or anything else that happens on the day but you’re just not up to scratch yourself and are not performing at the highest level, it’s pretty much impossible to win a game of rugby whether the ref’s on your side or not.
“There’s a lot of talk about what happened to England during the Six Nations but we just weren’t at our best across the games. Fair play to Ireland, they were the best team, but there’s no point losing a match like that and not seeing why we lost it and where we can improve.
“There’s a lot to take from losing and the good thing about sport, particularly rugby, is there are opportunities to go back to your club and get better. Then when we do come back together as an England side in South Africa, you’d hope to improve massively and win 3-0.”
Simmonds has parked his Six Nations disappointment to good effect by pumping in five tries in three top-flight matches against Bath, Gloucester and London Irish, taking his overall try tally to 12 for the season and 15 in 21 matches since his Premiership debut in February 2016.
Simmonds, who now has seven England caps, is hunting a second Premiership winner’s medal after appearing as a replacement in last May’s historic final victory over Wasps.
The 23-year-old Devonian said: “When you’re involved with England everything just explodes and it’s been a surreal experience.
“It’s nice to be back at Exeter now where I can continue to improve in a side that’s playing with confidence.”
Of his own try-scoring exploits, Simmonds adds: “No.8s are pretty blessed at Exeter, with Thomas Waldrom benefitting first and now myself. I’m not the tallest and I’m not going to be winning much ball in the lineout, but I might get the ball more at the back to finish off.
“I learned a lot from ‘Tank’ about being a threat on the ball.”
*This article originally featured in The Rugby Paper’s 22 April 2018 edition.
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