By Mark Stevens
Joe Simmonds believes having home advantage in Sunday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final is “massive” – and that he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates must make the most of it against visiting Harlequins (3pm).
The Chiefs know they are just a game away from booking a third successive final appearance in the competition, but standing in their way will be a talented Harlequins outfit, who themselves have the added incentive that a victory in Devon would set them up with a final appearance at their own ground in a week’s time.
Young fly-half Simmonds will line-up in a Chiefs side made up a tidy mix of youth and experience, but one that is brimming with confidence having lost just twice since the end of October, both times to French opposition in the European Champions Cup.
That impressive sequence of results has not only put Rob Baxter’s side in second place in the Aviva Premiership, but it enabled them to top Pool 4 in this season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup, this despite losing to Harlequins in Round Two 29-15 at the Twickenham Stoop.
Bonus point victories over Cardiff Blues, Wasps and Bristol ensured they topped their pool, while a defeat for the Londoners in their final outing at home to Sale Sharks saw them squander the chance of home advantage in the last four.
Now, the 20-year-old is banking on home comforts to drive the Devon club onwards and upwards this weekend. He said: “Having home advantage is massive, especially having a big crowd behind us as well. It’s a semi-final, though, so both sides are going to be good and going for it, so we have to be focused from the outset and look to take the game to them.”
Having started the season on loan at Plymouth Albion in National League One, Simmonds has spent the past few months back at Sandy Park with the Chiefs first team, featuring in the Premiership, Europe and Anglo-Welsh Cup.
It’s been a great learning curve for the talented playmaker, who this weekend will again line-up alongside older brother Sam, but his cool persona means he’s never one to get too carried away with things.
“I started the season down at Plymouth and then I was called back initially for the first few games in the Anglo-Welsh Cup,” he explained. “I got a couple of games under my belt and it’s just move on from there. Since then I’ve managed to get some game time in the Premiership and Europe as well, which has been great, but I just do what I have to do and take it from there.”
His job on Sunday, however, will be to spearhead the Exeter attack and he says the mood within the home camp is buoyant as they look to advance into the final against either Saracens or Leicester Tigers.
“It’s been a good training week and all the boys are really excited about the game,” he said. “We can’t wait to get out there and see how it goes.
“We’ve not spoken too much about them, we’ve tried to focus more on ourselves and what we want to do, but we know they are a very good side. We’ve talked as a group about the things we know we need to do – and if we play to our systems, I know we can win.”