Only 42 men in world rugby history have more Test caps than Rob Simmons. Yet he is one of the most pilloried players on The Roar. Soft. That’s what they call him. Or lazy.
After running the ruler over Patrick Tuipulotu’s effort in the All Blacks’ first-ever loss to the Pumas, primarily to calibrate the loss of Brodie Retallick in the engine room, I decided to watch Simmons in isolation against the same foe.
The big Queenslander has been seen primarily as a set-piece operator. He boosts any scrum with his ballast and leverage. He is one of the better lineout bosses. But after 105 caps, does he do other things? And how efficiently?
To remind us, I observed Paddy have 43 discrete involvements – specific actions outside scrum or maul, unless directly attributable to him – or 0.61 involvements per minute over his 70-minute stint. I classified each action as positive, neutral, or negative for his team. Almost 20 per cent of Paddy’s involvements, 8 of 43, were negative for the All Blacks.
Simmons was busier against the Pumas than Tuipulotu was: 0.75 involvements per minute; 50 total. He played just over 67 minutes. Remarkably, none of his actions were negative. Nought. Zero.
The closest he came was losing a lineout, but I did not include this, in the fifth chukka, because it was an abysmal throw, at the height of Simmons’ waist; easy pickings for Guido Petti, without a lifter.
Just as with Paddy, I divided Rob’s game into ten-minute chukkas.
Simmons and Tuipulotu both were busiest in the first chukka, including 14 and 11 involvements respectively. But Simmons never disappeared, as Paddy did in the fourth one.
Here is what Rob contributed.
First Chukka (14 involvements)
Positive: two extremely hard cleanouts.
Neutral: two latches, one lineout take, one tackle, four proper ruck attendances, and four decent kick pressures.
He also roamed in three defensive channels.
Second Chukka (8 involvements)
Positive: a big hit, a super pressure on a kick resulting in an eight-metre attacking lineout, and a massive push in a dominant scrum.
Neutral: a good maul steer, a clean lineout take, two rucks, and a tackle.
He was all over the pitch.
Third Chukka (7 involvements)
Positive: a fantastic save of another poor lineout throw.
Neutral: a tackle, a box kick pressure, one ruck attend, and three legal cleanouts.
His side of the scrum was getting a massive shove.
Fourth Chukka (7 involvements)
Positive: a dynamic, hard carry up the right tramline.
Neutral: another carry, a lineout take, a good pass, two rucks, and a kick pressure.
At halftime, he had ten more involvements than Paddy had. He often ran at 75-80 per cent speed, not just a perpetual trot. In the tackle, he powered through the carrier.
Fifth Chukka (7 involvements)
All neutral: he cleaned a couple of times, he made three carries in one series, he shepherded a maul, and completed a pass.
Sixth Chukka (4 involvements)
He directed defensive lines more in this phase.
Positive: a huge ball-and-all tackle which jarred the pill loose and gave the Wallabies a scrum.
Neutral: he attended two rucks, and helped halt a maul.
Seventh Chukka (3 involvements, before being replaced)
Positive: a brutal tackle which caused a Puma knock on; and a very hard cleanout.
Neutral: a tackle.
Watching Simmons is instructive. He is not flashy. At his age, he’s lost a step. But he knows good routes and he pushes hard.
He gave his team far more value than Paddy gave his; no errors, no penalties conceded, no big misses, and consistent power and precision.
Australia will miss Simmons after he’s gone, more than they love him now.