Of all the fascinating match-ups set to unfold in next weekend’s Premiership final none will be more absorbing than Owen Farrell against Joe Simmonds.
Farrell, imperious for Saracens against Wasps, and England’s captain elect for their summer tour to South Africa, will hold the whip hand in terms of experience, physicality and shear bloody-minded will to win.
But it is that very experience which will ensure the 26-year-old does not make the mistake of underestimating his 21-year-old opponent, Simmonds.
He may be a rookie on paper, but the young Exeter play-maker is performing like a seasoned pro. It is inconceivable the uncapped youngster will not wear England’s No10 shirt (the one currently worn by Farrell), sooner rather than later.
Simmonds was majestic on Saturday. Admittedly playing behind a pack who toyed with Newcastle’s eight and bullied them into submission, the young Exeter fly half gave yet another clear illustration of his quality.
A stray second-half pass, caught on the Sandy Park wind but not by Newcastle winger Niki Goneva, was the sole blip on a near faultless display. Seven kicks from seven? Tick. Bossing it like a king? Tick.
His performance against Harlequins a fortnight ago was good. His performance on Saturday at Sandy Park was high-class. Indeed, he could well make a late run for England’s World Cup squad next year.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter, not one to indulge in unnecessarily gushing praise, could not hide his admiration for his young charge as Newcastle were comfortably eclipsed.
The former Chiefs academy star looks to the manner born in Exeter’s first team, and his selection ahead of club stalwart Gareth Steenson, the hero in last year’s final win over Wasps, speaks volumes for his progress this season.
“I’ve been fantastically impressed,” Baxter said when asked about his young fly half’s progress.
“A mark of how impressed we’ve been with him is that we selected him again. This was a big game, not just for Joe but it was a huge game for this rugby club to get to another final.
“He’s been put in there and that shows where we see him standing at the moment. On form, he’s holding his place and his performances are meriting him being there.
“We’ve got the perfect scenario with Gareth on the bench. We’d be in a very strong position if it was the other way around and we started with Gareth with Simmo on the bench. We’re very fortunate the two are up and running. They both looked good on game time, touch and they’re kicking well, defending well. We are bit blessed to have them pushing each other so hard.”
Simmonds contribution was one of many outstanding performances in the latest memorable day for a club which, let’s not forget, has only been in the Premiership for eight seasons.
Some had also forgotten Chiefs finished the regular season no fewer than 22 points clear of Saturday’s opponents, Newcastle, who may have enjoyed their best season for more than a decade but were still miles off Exeter’s pace, power and precision.
Baxter’s men showed calm, control and patience as Newcastle somehow restricted them to one first-half try, despite a first-half blitz which would have felled most opponents.
Simmonds’ display at 10 was a huge plus. Remarkably, he was one of 11 players who did not start last season’s final, but played a pivotal role in driving Chiefs into next weekend’s mouth-watering clash against Saracens.
“In most clubs if you said there would be 11 players from a Premiership winning team they would be in panic,” Baxter added. “They’d think the world had fallen down around their ears. There were 11 different guys who didn’t start in the final last year who’ve just driven this team to a Premiership final.
“We can say we’ve experienced getting to finals but also we’re trying to create a team that wants to go out and win it again. The crucial thing year on year is to build your next team and not try to cling on to the glories of another past time.
“I’ve said to this group when the season started ‘it’s not about last year it’s about building for the next one’. Our selection has merited that. The guys who have been on form and merited selection have been the ones we’ve picked. We haven’t looked to just get the same XV onto the pitch at the end of the season who were there last year.”
Simmonds’ older brother, Sam, was also outstanding at No8 alongside Don Armand on the openside flank, Joe Ewers at blindside and Jonny Hill in Chiefs second row. Newcastle received the hype beforehand after a wonderful regular season which saw them finish fourth. Exeter, the defending champions, dealt in reality.
The Chiefs’ 36-5 win was as comprehensive as anything we have seen in the Premiership this season and sends them into Saturday’s Twickenham final in the best possible shape at the end of a season which saw them finish eight points clear of Saracens in the table.
Young Simmonds will travel without fear after watching club captain Steenson kick the upwardly-mobile west-country club to an historic first-ever Premiership triumph in the final last year.
“I was there last year watching, it was crazy with 80,000 people watching,” he said. “I have just got to kick my goals. I will block everything outside that out, it is just people watching. I say it every time but it is just a game of rugby, so I will see what comes next week.
“I am quite a positive person so always think of the good things. I have never really thought of the bad things playing rugby – I take it as it comes and hopefully we get the win this weekend.”
It is the right final between comfortably the two best teams in England. Farrell vs Simmonds junior will be worth paying the entrance fee alone.
Farrell, with two British and Irish Lions tours, a World Cup campaign, two European Cup triumphs and 58 England caps has the overwhelming advantage on paper.
But Simmonds is the coming man. Stand by for an epic encounter.
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