Sam Simmonds: ‘It feels like we’re going in the right direction’

Sam Simmonds is a Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup winner with club side Exeter Chiefs
©INPHO/James Crombie

England No. 8 Sam Simmonds has said that Steve Borthwick and the new coaching staff in the national setup are “giving as much clarity for us to be the best players we can be” ahead of their Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland.

Taking part in their first week of training under the leadership of Borthwick since his appointment in December, the side have a short space of time to get on the same page with Kevin Sinfield and Nick Evans having been appointed to the coaching staff.

From the outset of his appointment, Borthwick has maintained that ‘clarity’ is something that he would offer to the England playing group. It is something that the players were clearly lacking from their Autumn Nations Series outings, the Cumbrian’s transparency potentially the key to greater success on the field.

“That’s something Steve has stressed,” Simmonds said, “him being as clear as possible and the rest of the coaching staff giving as much clarity to be the best players we can be, and you need that within a squad.

“When you come together, 36 players, or however many, a lot of you play different styles of rugby, and it’s about bringing those together and going forward as an England squad.

“Steve and the rest of the coaches have been very hot on that, being clear about how we want to play and how we are going into the game next week, and that started this week.”

It cannot be avoided that the odds are massively stacked against England. After seven years under Eddie Jones, many of the players will not have played Test rugby without the Australian at the helm and just nine games stand between the side and their Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina in Marseille.

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England’s first challenge comes in the form of Scotland. For Montpellier-bound Simmonds and his teammates, much of their focus will be on themselves. 

Having been largely devoid of confidence at times in 2022, there has been much to learn already in a short space of time, with Simmonds pleased with how the squad are faring early on.

“As soon as we came in on Monday, he said we’re going to get straight into getting better and rebuilding this England team,” Simmonds said.

“He said he can’t promise we’re going to win every game or win the Six Nations, but he can promise we’re going to get better and improve as a team.

“I feel like we’ve got straight into that the first couple of days. It’s been tough, but the direction is there, and the structure is something everyone has bought into straight away.

“We feel that’s the way we’re going to win games. It’s only been a couple of days, but we know the direction we’re going in.

“Steve and the rest of the coaches – Kevin, Cockers [Richard Cockerill] – they expect a lot from us, as they should.

“We haven’t played a game yet, but within the two or three training sessions that we’ve had, it feels like we’re going in the right direction: there’s a buzz around the squad of excitement and enjoyment.

“First game against Scotland is huge, but from what I’ve seen and been a bit of so far, we’re building quite nicely.”

Already, Simmonds has seen a change to the England environment. It was noted when Borthwick took charge of Leicester Tigers in 2020, the 43-year-old moulding things the way he wanted them and ultimately changing things for the better.

Having been a part of the England setup on a more regular basis towards the end of Jones’s time in charge, Exeter Chiefs back-row Simmonds is already full of praise for how everyday life in camp has changed.

“Obviously Steve’s going to bring in how he sees the game being played and how he wants things to run,” Simmonds said. “I guess the structure side of the programme has changed a bit.

“The way we approach each game feels like you’re in a club environment. You start each day as you would at your club first thing, and then you run all the way until whenever you finish and that’s your day done, whereas before it was a bit more broken up – you’d have maybe done the gym in the morning and maybe trained in the afternoon, or maybe the other way round.

“There’s a good flow to how we bounce through things and how we go from meetings, to training, to gym. It’s positive.”

There is less than a week to go until England look to regain the Calcutta Cup. Last lifting the trophy in 2020, to say that England have been underwhelming in the Anglo-Celtic clash is putting things mildly.

Scotland will have their own confidence. Their own Autumn Nations Series campaign was not without faults, but tight losses to New Zealand and Australia, while beating Argentina and Fiji, mean that Gregor Townsend’s side can have faith in themselves.

It will be the marker for England on how quickly things have gelled under new management. Many familiar faces will take to the turf at Twickenham Stadium, but now with fresh ideas being uploaded on the training field, their opposition a stern challenge and Simmonds aware of the threat that the Scots pose this coming Saturday.

“Obviously they bring a lot of threats,” Simmonds said, “a lot of their stuff comes from 10. Finn Russell is obviously a very influential player for them, whether it is his passing ability, his kicking ability, his game management, so that will be something we will talk about in more depth next week, how we deal with him, how we can shut him out of the game because that gives us a better chance of winning.

“Obviously we haven’t had great results against Scotland the last couple of years, so being back at Twickenham, hopefully a full crowd will play its part in hopefully getting a good result against them because we have been poor in the last couple of games against them.”