Simmons goes from Reds outcast to Wallabies saviour
RUGBY UNION: Rob Simmons' rollercoaster ride continues.
Unwanted by his hometown Reds for 2018 and beyond, the 2019 Rugby World Cup remains firmly on the veteran's radar after the lock fought his way back into the Wallabies starting side for Saturday's second Bledisloe Cup Test.
It was a surprise call from coach Michael Cheika, who opted for Simmons' superior lineout skills over Rory Arnold before the latter was called back into the run-on XV following Adam Coleman's late scratching.
Incredibly, it is the 12th change of Australia's second-row combination since the start of 2016.
That juggling act stands in stark contrast to the All Blacks' situation as Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick prepare to equal the New Zealand record for most starts by a lock pairing in their 45th shared outing in Dunedin.
They will share the mark with Ian Jones and Robin Brooke.
For Simmons the occasion at Forsyth Barr Stadium looms as potentially career-defining.
"There was a little bit of shock, considering the year it's been but to hear my name read out, it was a bit of a surprise and I was pretty excited to get the chance to go out there and start the game," Simmons said.
"It's (2017) had its ups and downs but it's been tough just to get your head around what's happening.
"But you've only got a week apart between each game and you can try your best to put your best foot forward each week.
"I've got some pretty strong support around me from my family and my wife so they've been there for me and supported me in whatever I was going to do and that's been a great help."
Simmons' aerial ability has never been in doubt but Cheika has demanded more aggression to round out his game.
There was overseas interest once the Reds told him his services weren't required going forward but Simmons was close to confirming he'd be Waratahs-bound to help offset the departures of Will Skelton and Dean Mumm.
"The Waratahs are in the frame but we can't say anything yet," Simmons said.
"That's the plan (to stay in Australia) and that was always the reason for wanting to stay around.
"I love playing for my country and the ability to do that - it's a lot harder to do when you move overseas."
The Wallabies set-piece was one of the few areas that stood up to intense New Zealand scrutiny last week but Simmons expected the world champions to step up in that department in Dunedin.
Dane Coles will be throwing into the lineout instead of Codie Taylor and while tighthead prop Nepo Laulala is making his first Test start it is unlikely to cause major disruption.
Simmons will call the lineouts in Coleman's absence.
"They just bring that intensity and consistency from every player to do their role at that top quality, every single time," Simmons said.
"They're one of the best defensive lineouts in the world, so it's going to be a challenge every single time and you can expect them to get better as the season goes on.
"(Retallick's) fitness and his mobility around the field but also the hard work in the tight stuff sets a whole other level above for what aspiring locks want to be doing."