One identify has dominated the headlines of northern hemisphere rugby in the previous couple of weeks – Sam Simmonds.
The Englishman, constantly and bemusingly missed by Eddie Jones, has been inflicting a stir, setting information within the Gallagher Premiership and incomes a deserved Lions call-up within the course of.
Extremely, the barnstorming Exeter Chiefs No.8 has now set a document for tries scored in a Premiership season, sitting on 19 for the yr with three common season matches remaining.
His exploits proved too spectacular for Warren Gatland to disregard, regardless of Jones’ reluctance to acknowledge the 26-year-old’s skills.
Simmonds will now, after all, rival Wales’ Taulupe Faletau and Eire’s Jack Conan for the Lions No.8 jersey.
After a resurgent couple of months, it appears inconceivable that the Welshman, who’s trying again to his greatest, is not going to be current when that first Take a look at will get underway in Cape City on July 24.
However there may be a number of noise about Simmonds. His identify has been shouted from the rooftops of English rugby all season and, in equity, he is deserved the hype.
So how a lot of a menace is he to Faletau?
There’s lots going for the two-time Lions vacationer.
To start with, whereas Simmonds has eight England caps to his identify, the final one got here in 2018 and since then he has not appeared within the Take a look at area.
The deserves of his non-selection are for the England head coach to ponder however the reality stays that, for all his great play within the Gallagher Premiership, he’s unproven at worldwide stage.
Sure, he marauds across the fields of England, scoring nearly at will however will he have the ability to do the identical to the Springboks or will they gobble him up?
We do not actually know what he’ll have the ability to do on that stage. The uncertainty will go in Faletau’s favour as a result of his high quality on the very greatest stage is simple. He is confirmed it over his 10-year worldwide profession.
That mentioned, Gatland is astute and has not chosen Simmonds evenly. The previous Wales boss will make a name on the Englishman fairly shortly, one would counsel. Just a few weeks of coaching, working intently with Simmonds, and one or two warm-up matches will probably be sufficient for the Kiwi to be taught whether or not or not he’s a real contender to start out within the Assessments.
Faletau’s relationship with Gatland must also be factored in. The No.8 got here by way of underneath Gatland and was constantly one in every of his greatest performers all through the eight years they labored collectively.
The 90-cap 30-year-old performed a key position within the successes Wales loved through the Gatland period and that can depend for lots. If the Lions boss ever uttered a unfavourable phrase about Faletau, it has not been documented.
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What do the numbers say about all this?
Within the Premiership, Simmonds simply edges it and has performed over twice as many minutes as his Welsh counterpart.
Even when each gamers’ impacts on a sport are calculated relative to their time on the sector, Simmonds nonetheless comes out on high.
He has averaged extra metres per carry, crushed defenders extra incessantly, misplaced the ball much less and made a better proportion of his tackles.
Though Faletau has made extra breaks and produced extra offloads.
Nevertheless, while you take a look at the Welshman’s 2021 Six Nations statistics, he begins to battle again. He averaged nearly two extra metres per carry a Take a look at stage than Simmonds did at Premiership stage and misplaced the ball simply as soon as in 363 minutes of high stage rugby. Simmonds has misplaced the ball as soon as each 81 minutes at home stage to date.
Many different statistics are comparable in Faletau’s Six Nations marketing campaign and Simmonds’ season within the Premiership, although the extra skilled of the 2 ought to get extra credit score for the extent at which he has operated.
So what does the boss himself make of all of it?
When Gatland met the media on the day of the squad announcement, he fielded questions on Simmonds however was fast to say the qualities of Faletau as effectively.
It is clear he desires his free forwards to have the ability to do extra than simply run exhausting and straight.
” South Africa, it’s a must to have gamers, significantly in your ahead pack, that simply do not put the ball underneath their arm and run straight,” he mentioned. “You want gamers with footwork and Simmonds has that with tempo.
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“Faletau has positively acquired footwork as effectively. It is not about making an attempt to match them bodily. You want gamers that may try this however you’ve got acquired to have the ability to carry some variation into your attacking choices.”
Having labored with him for a few years, Gatland will not have to be informed that Faletau at his greatest is a participant who blends that uncooked energy with delicate footwork within the contact space and that’s what makes him so efficient.
Might this choice dilemma be eradicated by merely taking part in the pair of them collectively? Presumably.
Faletau has featured closely at blindside flanker for his membership facet Bathtub lately – although his greatest place is undoubtedly No.8 – with Zach Mercer anchoring the scrum at The Rec.
That might open the door for Simmonds to start out at No.8 with Faletau on the blindside. However it appears unlikely as a result of it might make the again row look barely unbalanced.
At Exeter, Simmonds has two huge, uncompromising characters in Dave Ewers and Jacques Vermeulen on the flanks. They do the grunt work that permits Simmonds to flourish.
Would you ask Faletau to carry out the Ewers position to provide Simmonds the liberty to roam? Most likely not since you lose an excessive amount of of the Welshman’s greatness.
For that motive, it seems to be a straight shootout. One or the opposite.
When Gatland seems at his depth chart, he’ll see one participant who has produced for him in two earlier Lions collection, a number of Six Nations campaigns and World Cups, and he’ll see one participant who has had an impressive season within the Premiership.
For that motive, heading into the tour, Gatland will certainly have Faletau pencilled in at No.8 as a result of he’s confirmed on the very highest stage and has constantly delivered for the Kiwi down the years.
Will probably be as much as Simmonds to essentially push his case when the Lions assemble later this summer season.