Injuries to Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes ahead of this year’s Six Nations led to some considerable concern about England’s back-row and in particular, their ability to generate front-foot ball.
Eddie Jones selected Courtney Lawes at blindside to add another carrying option to his back-row but ultimately the responsibility fell on Six Nations debutant, Sam Simmonds, to generate that vital momentum.
A tall task on your Six Nations debut but the Exeter man exceeded all expectations in what was a man of the match display (despite Anthony Watson being awarded the official man of the match).
Simmonds was slightly subdued in the first half from an attacking perspective but he was heavily involved in his side’s defensive duties as he posted 23 tackles with a 100% succession rate, the highest in the game.
The 23-year-old was a revelation in attack, carrying 14 times for a yield of 80 metres, beating six defenders and making three clean line breaks.
Tackles – 23 (100% Completion) [Game High Record]
Carries – 14 [Game High Record]
Metres – 80 [Game High Record]
Defenders Beaten – 6 [Game High Record]
Line Breaks – 3 [Game High Record]
Simmonds is not in the typical mould of an English number eight, he is five stone lighter than Vunipola and three stone lighter than Hughes but it is with this lighter frame that he is able to be so mobile around the park which was evident in the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday. This allows him to step out of the tackle at a greater ability than the aforementioned duo.
Jones has compared him to former All Black Victor Vito in his post-match comments, according to The Telegraph.
“Life is full of contradictions and he is one of them,” Jones said. “He gives a different type of No 8. He is like the guy who used to play for the All Blacks, Victor Vito. Very fast, elusive.”
If England’s Six Nations opposition were not fully aware of Simmonds, certainly, they will be now. Simmonds will again be the man tasked to provide that attacking back-row edge when his side welcomes Wales to Twickenham this weekend.