Some records are harder to break than others and, at this rate, it could be a while before anyone overhauls Sam Simmonds as the most prolific try scorer in the English game. A hat-trick in front of the watching national coach Eddie Jones has propelled the Chiefs No8 to 19 tries this season, two more than any player has ever registered in a Premiership campaign.
With three rounds of the regular season still to go there is also no obvious sign of the 26-year-old Simmonds easing up now he has passed the previous record of 17 jointly held by the wings Dominic Chapman and Christian Wade. Given he is a forward and also has his share of defensive grunt work to do, his achievement is a serious tribute to his explosive pace, sharp footwork and dynamic power.
While his two first-half scores were relatively unflashy close-range efforts, the third saw him underline his versatility by surging over in the right corner eight minutes from the end. While the Chiefs were not overly spectacular, this bonus-point victory has booked their place in the play-offs and restored them to second in the table, eight points behind leaders Bristol.
For Simmonds, though, a major personal landmark has already been tucked away. “It means a lot to me,” he confirmed. “I turned up at Exeter at 18 not really knowing what position I wanted to play. They’ve allowed me to be me and score tries and excel as a player.As a team we’re striving for greatness and the players do so much for me. They’re putting me in those positions and credit to them for helping me get the record.”
It is reaching the point where referees are assuming the soon-to-be Lion must have scored even if the evidence is not entirely clear. It took only seven minutes on a mild West London evening for the serial poacher to twist over the line beneath a heap of bodies and Christophe Ridley awarded the score despite the absence of any conclusive proof of the ball being grounded.
Then again, Irish’s equalising try seven minutes later was debatable as well. Only when an image suggesting Ben Donnell had reached the whitewash from close range was flashed up on the big screen did Ridley consult the TMO and the try was given despite the suggestion from other angles that the flanker might have been just short.
Waiting for the decisions to be reached did at least allow more time to appreciate London Irish’s snazzy new stadium, with the presence of almost 4,000 spectators a further joy. The only issue was a slightly slippery surface but, as with his brother, Joe Simmonds was not remotely inconvenienced, spotting a midfield mismatch with prop Loveday Chawatama, throwing a lovely dummy and sprinting clean through to extend the evening’s family theme.
There was never much question, though, which brother was destined to steal the headlines on the night. With 24 minutes gone Chiefs once again established a promising position deep in the Irish 22 and this time there was absolutely no disputing the perfect low body angle or finishing power of the Premiership’s new record-breaker.
Irish needed a swift response and found it when the visiting full-back Stuart Hogg made a mess of a clearance and Ollie Hassell-Collins produced a gorgeous offload for Ben Loader to score. The Exiles, though, were also guilty of some costly errors, not least for Exeter’s fourth try when Loader could not deal with a tricky bouncing ball on his own line and the alert Tom O’Flaherty sneaked in. The wing was sent to the sin-bin shortly afterwards but the Chiefs, despite the odd defensive alarm, were never going to let the unstoppable Simmonds finish on the losing side.