Simmonds and Dombrandt shine in Gallagher Premiership

Gallagher Premiership

The Gallagher Premiership semifinals over the weekend propelled English rugby to the forefront of European rugby. Contrast France’s Top 14 semifinals which were tight, turgid affairs dominated by the forwards. The Gallagher Premiership will never be able to match the salaries that the Top 14 can dish out. However, for any southern hemisphere player wanting to test themselves out in Europe, they should head to the UK. How Harlequins came back from 28-0 down away to Bristol, who has been the best team in England this season, was quite incredible. It was an utterly magnificent, barmy game of rugby that had everything a rugby fan could wish for. From a national team perspective, Eddie Jones’s selection stocks should be further boosted.

Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt once again will enter into those conversations. It was Alex Dombrandt who stole the headlines with a blockbusting performance against Bristol. Sam Simmonds showed maturity in his game by being in the thick of the forward battle against a Sale pack that had four South Africans in it. Surely both Dombrandt and Simmonds will be picked by Eddie Jones in the autumn? The question is how do you utilise both in the matchday squad?

Simmonds at number 8

The discussion on who plays number 8 for England could bring in at least four players. The incumbent Billy Vunipola, Alex Dombrant, Sam Simmonds and Ben Earl. Any notion of the Curry brothers should be binned by Jones. Billy Vunipola will have the summer off. He is good enough to be able to explode into the 2021-22 Premiership season and take his place again. However, Vunipola has had his chances over the last 18 months and more often than not, he has not produced. Obviously Vunipola deserves a shot at redemption after Saracens’s challenges off the field, the all-consuming Covid bubble and his many injuries.

It would be a breath of fresh air that England rugby currently needs by bringing Sam Simmonds in at number 8. Give him the autumn series and the 2022 Six Nations. Quite simply he is too good a player to continue to ignore. Simmonds linking up with Tom Curry at openside and possibly Ben Earl at blindside would make for a dynamic England back row. The bulk that Eddie Jones so loves will be made up in the front five.

Dombrant on the bench or in the second row

The reality of Alex Dombrant being selected in England’s engine room beside Maro Itoje is remote. Sir Clive Woodward put this idea forward during the 2021 Six Nations. It is not an entirely stupid one. Dombrandt is a key cog in the Harlequins lineout and brings a much improved defensive output to complement his attacking game. Add in the fact that England has chopped and changed in the second row for a consistent partner to Maro Itoje. Charlie Ewels, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury to name but a few. It is unlikely that Jones will go down this line.

He is also unlikely to pick Dombrandt and Simmonds together in the back row. It remains to be seen whether he will even pick one of them! Such is Dombrandt’s ability to break the line, like Simmonds, he must come into consideration for the matchday squad. Will Jones go against his preferred power game approach to find space for one of or both of Simmonds and Dombrandt? With the RFU making it abundantly clear that Jones needs to look above the parapet once in a while and pick form players from the Gallagher Premiership, it might still happen!

England’s next generation on show at Twickenham

On paper, the Gallagher Premiership final between Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs could be one of the great matches.

There are some fascinating subplots to this final not least the styles that both of these teams bring. There are bucket loads of points in each of them although Exeter’s much-vaunted pack can also suffocate the life out of the opposition. It is whether Harlequins can get enough of a platform upfront to unleash the magical skillsets of Marcus Smith at flyhalf. The battle between Smith and Joe Simmonds is a crucial one in the context of the final but also in challenging the George Ford/Owen Farrell dynasty.

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England’s most promising talent is on show at Twickenham. From Harlequins, Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant and Alex Dombrandt look set to break into Eddie Jones’s future squad. For Exeter, the familiar names of the Simmonds boys join the likes of Henry Slade and Jonny Hill. Harlequins will not die wondering, they will likely play the same running rugby as they have done all season. Whether it will be enough against the current champions is doubtful. Exeter is firm favourites.

Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds to headline the final

Above all, there are two names who have the ability to set Twickenham alight this coming Saturday. Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds. Rarely do we see them play against each other so this is a treat for all England rugby fans. They both have running games that very few backrowers have anywhere. It is easy to highlight their flare but over the last two seasons, both of them have added to their respective games. Dombrandt’s defensive abilities have risen significantly. As has his work rate in the tight and across the pitch. Simmonds’s incredible power belies the notion that he is too light for the uncompromising dark arts of forward play. He and Luke Cowan-Dickie are the leaders in this Chiefs’ pack.

It is too tempting to hope that they both gain the international recognition they deserve. At the very least we will see Sam Simmonds in a British and Irish Lions jersey in the coming weeks. And we will see Dombrandt hopefully pick up his first cap when the USA and Canada come to town. For now, let us enjoy their unique skillsets on Saturday afternoon.

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