Sam Simmonds’ stellar season is fuelled by ability rather than anger over being ignored by England, according to his Exeter boss Rob Baxter.
Simmonds has amassed 14 tries in the Gallagher Premiership this season, six more than his nearest rival, and is reigning European player of the year, yet he is consistently overlooked by Eddie Jones.
While Jones is unpersuaded, the number eight’s rampaging form has propelled him into contention for a place on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa this summer.
And providing the stage to convince Warren Gatland that he is of Lions calibre is Exeter’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster at Sandy Park on Saturday.
“Sometimes we look for all of these complex drivers but Sam is having a good season because he’s a very good player and it’s as simple as that,” Baxter said.
“If he is angry and has got a point to prove to England then that’s great and there is nothing wrong with that being a driver.
“But his driver might also be that he wants to have a great season and win some games of rugby.
“He hears everyone keep saying he should be in the England team and he should be going on the Lions tour and all of these things.
“They are all motivators but ultimately you can only play well if you are a great player.
“So the foundation of it all is that he’s a good player and whatever his motivations are, then great.”
Exeter remain on course to defend last season’s double and Baxter insists that if they are successful, it will because solo targets have been met.
“If you want to build success, it’s about what the individuals want to achieve,” Baxter said.
“We focused on who is going to have their best season, hit personal bests, set records.
“If you look at clubs with ongoing success it’s because players have ongoing better seasons, or a rookie comes out of nowhere to have a season-best performance.
“All clubs are driven by someone setting higher standards. That leads and galvanises the team.
“An example standing out to me already is that you look at where Sam Simmonds is on try-scoring – there’s potential for him to set the record as the highest scorer in the Premiership.
“Those kinds of things are what you want to see. Trophies, getting to quarter or semi-finals are all a bit pie in the sky unless individuals decide to have their best seasons.”