Italy v Australia
Rob Simmons excited by attacking role
November 8, 2013
Rob Simmons has played only 30 minutes as a blindside flanker © Getty Images
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Wallabies wildcard Rob Simmons loves running the ball but he understands that he must prove to team-mates he can do the job after being selected ahead of three back-rowers to start as blindside flanker against Italy at Stadio Olimpico in Turin on Saturday.
The 2m second-row was shocked that Ewen McKenzie would choose him for the role on return from a strained medial ligament in his left knee, as he has never started a professional game at No.6 and has played only 30 minutes there against United States at Rugby World Cup 2011. He has never even started in the back-row at Super Rugby level, including for McKenzie with Queensland Reds. But he's relishing the thought of getting his hands on the ball in attack far more than he does in the second-row, instead of being someone who does the less-appreciated hard graft of cleaning out at rucks and tackling in tight.
"I enjoy running the ball," Simmons said. "I don't get to do it a lot so I guess I have to prove it to my own team-mates first this weekend that I'm able to do it and do it well and go from that. Numbers in the gym and things like that show that I could do it, but I still have to prove myself in that position. Playing second-row, you are obviously part of the engine room there and it's quite draining. So [it's good] to be a bit looser and quicker around the field like most sixes are.
"The coaches haven't come to me and said 'be like [injured No.6] Scott Fardy'. Iit's bringing my own part of the game to the game in that position. I won't be changing too much; obviously a few things positionally, but apart from that I'll be playing the game as normal."
McKenzie surprised all and sundry when he overlooked Ben McCalman for the role after Scott Fardy, a revelation for his breakdown work, was ruled out with concussion. But he clearly believes 33-Test lineout specialist Simmons, a rugby league junior, might surprise fans and critics alike. Dave Dennis is a specialist No.6 for New South Wales Waratahs, while Liam Gill has also played there off the bench at Test level; both players are on the replacements bench in Turin.
Gill believes Queensland Reds team-mate will step up as the Wallabies have chosen to bolster their lineout instead of the breakdown. "He'll fit in well," Gill said of Simmons. "He'll play hard like a second-rower. He's a skilful second-rower who is tied down in tight so I think he'll get the chance to show his real skills."
Gill, meanwhile, said that Simmons and Wallabies had to improve their breakdown against Italy, after "it was very noticeable last week that [England] didn't attack the ball, they attacked the space".
"I think cleaning up that area and really sorting out our breakdown is a big part of our game that we need to go forward, provide front-foot ball that we can attack from," Gill said.
"Defensively we need to apply a lot of pressure at the breakdown and try and slow their ball down," he said. "If [Italy] get fast front-foot ball, their forwards get a good roll on and their offloading game can be quite dangerous. In attack we need to make the advantage line and get our backs into the game. It's a big battle for us forwards this weekend. If we can nullify their forwards that will go a good way to winning the game."
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