Sam Simmonds made a compelling case to start England’s Six Nations campaign with a storming hat-trick in France.
Eddie Jones had hoped admitting that he may shift Tom Curry from No.8 to openside in the upcoming tournament would produce a reaction from the two contenders.
But even he would have been impressed by the way first Alex Dombrandt then Simmonds took the bull by the horns in the final pool round of the Champions Cup.
Two days after Dombrandt helped himself to three tries captaining Harlequins to a last-ditch win over Castres, Simmonds matched him try for try against Montpellier.
It was not enough to win the game as Philippe Saint-Andre’s side, back to full strength after being embarrassed 89-7 at Leinster, regained their self-respect to set up a two-leg Round of 16 clash with Quins.
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But Simmonds produced an individual performance of such power in the red zone that Montpellier could not handle his leg drive and Jones might not be able to resist it either.
Former England No.8 Lawrence Dallaglio looked on in admiration as Simmonds, who last started a Test for England four years ago, took his try tally to 75 in 100 Premiership and European Cup appearances.
“That is a phenomenal try scoring record at that level,” said Dallaglio, as Exeter came to terms with being drawn to play two-time champions Munster home and away in April.
“Alex Dombrandt scores a hat-trick on Friday night and he’s thinking he’s in the box seat to get picked by Eddie Jones. Sam Simmonds then goes and produces that.”
Simmonds struck in the third minute, muscling his way through a mass of defenders to put Chiefs on the board.
It shocked Montpellier into a three-try response before Slammin’ Sam exploded through two tackles and over again on the half hour.
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His third on 50 minutes nudged Exeter ahead but former Northampton star Cobus Reinach intercepted and went the length to settle the issue.
“We started the better but for whatever reason just couldn’t handle what they hit us up with,” Simmonds admitted. “They’re a good side but that’s down to us and how we defended. We allowed them too much momentum.”
Leicester’s reward for qualifying as top seeds is Clermont, while Bristol and Sale meet in the only all-English tie.
MONTPELLIER – Tries: Bouthier, Willemse, Serfontein, Reinach. Cons: Foursans 3, Garbisi. Pens: Foursans 2, Garbisi.
EXETER – Tries: S Simmonds 3, O’Brien. Cons: J Simmonds 3.
Champions Cup Round of 16 draw
(Ties to be played over 2 legs on weekends April 8-10 and 15-17)
Racing 92 v Stade Francais
Bristol v Sale
Harlequins v Montpellier
La Rochelle v Bordeaux
Ulster v Toulouse
Munster v Exeter
Leicester v Clermont
Leinster v Connacht