Sam Simmonds plans to continue his pursuit this season of what he describes as an “ultimate goal” – World Cup selection.
In the past 18 months, 23-year-old Simmonds has gone from making his league debut to helping Exeter be crowned English champions, as well as winning seven England caps, which included scoring two tries on his Six Nations debut against Italy.
With the Rugby World Cup in Japan just over a year away, Simmonds knows that he faces an intense career spell that could start at Sandy Park and finish in Yokohama.
“I see this season as quite a big one for me,” Simmonds said.
“I will take it week by week, and if I can perform well for Exeter, which I hope I can, that then puts me in good stead for international honours.
“The England experience has been eye-opening. It’s great. I feel like it has improved me as a player and improved my understanding of the game.
“When I first turned up, I was nervous, but now I am looking forward to going back and to keep kicking on.
“It would be a dream to play in a World Cup. That is a long-term goal, but the short-term goal is to play well for Exeter and to hopefully be involved in the autumn series, which rolls on to the Six Nations, and the ultimate goal is the World Cup.
“In my mind, it is so far away, although I am sure it will creep up quite quickly.”
Simmonds’ ability to play with pace, power and considerable footballing skills has underpinned him shooting through the ranks.
It proved a rapid rise to the top, making his England bow just nine months after first gaining a place in Exeter’s Premiership team, but he quickly grasped the situation.
“I felt at the time that I couldn’t sit back and think I’ve played for England and won the Premiership, because I felt if I did that I would just stop and be happy with what I had done,” he added.
“You need to keep pushing on and moving forward, and I feel like the time I have had off this summer has allowed me to do that.”
Exeter, Premiership finalists in each of the past three seasons and 2017 champions, begin their latest title quest at home to Leicester on Saturday.
And after losing against Saracens at Twickenham three months ago, the Chiefs have no intention of seeing their healthy appetite for silverware diminish.
“Rob (Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter) has said we felt that the first year we got there, it was like ‘wow, we are in the Premiership final’, then the second year we got over that and won it,” Simmonds continued.
“We finished top last season, we were the best team throughout the year, but we just weren’t as good as Saracens were on the day. It’s sport. It happens.
“We weren’t good enough to win on the day, but the great thing about sport is you get other opportunities.”
*Simmonds was speaking at the opening of Exeter Chiefs’ new fitness analysis suite, launched in partnership with Red Bull.
The wait is nearly over and to continue our build up ahead of the new PRO14 season, we have profiled every team competing in rugby’s premier professional club competition in Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa.
Here, we take a look at five of the league’s best signings this summer.
TADHG BEIRNE – SCARLETS TO MUNSTER
The 26-year-old secondrow-cum-backrow is a significant coup for the Limerick side, with his versatility and fitness making him one of the stand-out stars on the British Isles over the last two terms.
Apart from his imposing 6’5 frame, Beirne carries well, tackles effectively and is a serial turnover merchant, with a record breaking 39 turnovers, 17 more than any other player.
JOEY CARBERY – LEINSTER TO MUNSTER
The 22-year-old is another exciting capture for Johann van Graan’s side with his nimble footwork, intelligent game management, accurate passing and place-kicking all at the centre of his vast skillset.
The Irish playmaker made 37 appearances for Leinster during his two years at the club, and was part of their successful double-winning campaign last term.
With the Wold Cup in sight, more game time at No10 will be among Carbery’s key focuses at Thomond Park – a position he was unable to feature at regularly during his tenure at Leinster.
JOHN BARCLAY – SCARLETS TO EDINBURGH
The 31-year-old, who has made 71 appearances for Scotland, returns home after five years at the Welsh region.
Although he is not expected to play until December due to an Achilles injury, Barclay will add real mettle and leadership to an improving side that made the PRO14 quarter-finals last season.
Fifteen wins may have exceeded manager Richard Cockerill’s expectations last term, but with talisman Barclay and out-half Simon Hickey, he has two players who can inspire them to further success.
KYLE GODWIN – BRUMBIES TO CONNACHT
The Australian international looks a real gem of a signing for the Westeners.
At 6’2, the Zimbabwean-born star possesses speed, power, good defence and has the game management skills to unlock the pace of Tiernan O’Halloran and Matt Healy out wide.
With four out of their first six games at home, Connacht have a real chance to gather some early momentum, especially with the acquisition of the talented former Brumbies man.
GEORGE NORTH – NORTHAMPTON TO OSPREYS
The 26-year-old can make the magic happen at the Liberty Stadium but it is unlikely he will feature regularly in the PRO14, especially in the build up to next year’s World Cup.
The two-time British & Irish Lion is one of the most dangerous wingers in world rugby, and is certain to add a real x-factor to an Ospreys side low on confidence and leadership.
Their nine wins last season was their lowest since 2008, and combined with the departures of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, the Swansea outfit will be looking towards the inspirational North to help them take flight.
The Premiership returns for the 2018/19 season this weekend, with last year’s beaten finalists Exeter – usurped as champions by Saracens – hosting Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park on Saturday.
There are four games in total on Saturday, including Gloucester against Northampton, with new signings Danny Cipriani and Matt Banahan expected to make their Premiership bows for Gloucester.
The champions are in action on Sunday away at Newcastle, while Bristol and Bath get us under way on Friday.
Ahead of the opening weekend, we look at all the fixtures.
EXETER V LEICESTER
New signing Alex Cuthbert, England wing Jack Nowell and lock Mitch Lees are missing for Exeter after undergoing summer surgery, but the Chiefs still parade a powerful line-up for their Premiership opener that includes the likes of Olly Woodburn, Gareth Steenson, Don Armand and Sam Simmonds.
Former Worcester forwards Will Spencer and David Denton will make their Leicester debuts at Sandy Park, with three more new arrivals – Kyle Eastmond, David Feao and Gaston Cortes – among the replacements.
Manu Tuilagi and Matt Toomua team up in midfield, with George Ford and Ben Youngs the half-back pairing.
Last season: Exeter 30 Leicester 6, Leicester 20 Exeter 13
Last six league matches: Exeter WWWWWW, Leicester WWWLLW
GLOUCESTER V NORTHAMPTON
England internationals Danny Cipriani and Matt Banahan will make their Premiership bows for Gloucester. Cipriani is joined at half-back by Callum Braley, while Banahan forges the back-three unit alongside Jason Woodward and Charlie Sharples. Lock Ed Slater captains the side.
England captain Dylan Hartley has been named on the bench for Northampton after making a successful comeback against pre-season friendly opponents Glasgow last week following five months out due to concussion.
New rugby director Chris Boyd hands Saints Premiership debuts to fly-half Dan Biggar, prop Ben Franks and flanker James Haskell.
Last season: Northampton 22 Gloucester 19, Gloucester 29 Northampton 24
Last six league matches: Gloucester LWLWLL, Northampton LLLWLW
HARLEQUINS V SALE
England flanker Chris Robshaw captains a Quins side that includes three debutants in wing Nathan Earle, centre Ben Tapuai and lock Matt Symons. Full-back Mike Brown makes his 299th appearance for the club, and exciting prospect Marcus Smith starts at fly-half.
Wing Marland Yarde will line up for Sale against his former club, with number eight Jono Ross skippering the side. Elsewhere, the Curry brothers Tom and Ben both start, and there is a Sale debut for ex-Bath forward James Phillips alongside Bryn Evans in the second-row.
Last season: Sale 30 Harlequins 29, Harlequins 42 Sale 26
Last six league matches: Harlequins WLLLLL, Sale WWWLLL
WORCESTER V WASPS
Three of Worcester’s new signings will line up in the starting XV against Wasps, with centre Francois Venter, fly-half Duncan Weir and prop Callum Black – who has returned for a second spell with the Warriors – all featuring. Fit-again hooker Niall Arnett, meanwhile, makes a first league appearance since late 2016.
Billy Searle, a summer arrival from Bristol, fills the fly-half berth for Wasps at Sixways, while flanker Joe Atkinson also makes his competitive debut for the club. Searle forms a half-back partnership with Dan Robson, while England international Elliot Daly and South African Juan De Jongh team up in midfield.
Last season: Wasps 30 Worcester 15, Worcester 10 Wasps 24
Last six league matches: Worcester LLWLWL, Wasps WLLWWW
Sunday, September 2
NEWCASTLE V SARACENS
Newcastle boss Dean Richards hands a first Premiership start to wing Adam Radwan for Saracens’ Kingston Park visit. The 20-year-old scored tries in all of the Falcons’ pre-season friendlies.
New signing Logovi’i Mulipola starts in the front-row, where his colleagues include George McGuigan, who has returned for a second spell with Newcastle.
Wing David Strettle will make his Premiership return for Saracens after rejoining the club from French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne. Strettle, whose last competitive Saracens game was in 2015, lines up in a side that also sees starts for scrum-half Ben Spencer and lock Will Skelton.
Billy Vunipola, who is recovering from injury, is not included.
Last season: Saracens 25 Newcastle 3, Newcastle 7 Saracens 29
Last six league matches: Newcastle WWLWWL, Saracens LWWWWW