Simmons set to continue following in the footsteps of England star Youngs after Leicester debut
As two more Norfolk youngsters roll off the Leicester production line, DAVID FREEZER speaks to Harry Simmons about his Tigers debut and hopes for a Premiership opportunity this season.
Harry Simmons has set his sights on a Premiership debut after becoming the latest Norfolk player to get a chance to shine in the Leicester Tigers first team.
The 18-year-old made his debut last weekend when playing the opening hour of a 26-24 home win over Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup – and has retained his starting place for a trip to Bath tonight.
Simmons switches from scrum-half to full-back for the clash and is joined in the squad by another Norfolk lad hoping to make his debut, 19-year-old hooker Harry Mahoney, who starts on the bench.
“It was something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid, so it was pretty special for me and the family,” the England Under-18 international said of his first senior game for the Tigers.
“Obviously I was very nervous but as soon as soon as you get into the swing of things it’s the same as any other game, it’s about getting your hands on the ball and then you forget about the crowd and the TV cameras and all that stuff.”
During Saturday’s game at Welford Road the former Holt junior had friends alongside him in Wymondham product Will Evans, an established player in the senior squad, and George Worth, who is from Peterborough but attended Wymondham College alongside Evans.
Simmons, who grew up in Lenwade, has been with Tigers since under-16 level, moving to Leicester after completing his A-Levels at Gresham’s School in Holt. He represented Norfolk and Eastern Counties as a youngster, following in the footsteps of his father, Mark, who captained Norfolk, Eastern Counties and Holt.
“Mum and dad were here for the game and I had a few mates from school here as well,” Simmons continued. “Also some of the Holt boys were here for the Prima Cup, the under-10s competition after the game.
“So it was good to see them, I know a few of the lads and their coaches as well, so that was nice.”
A former Holt and Gresham’s School junior, representing England and breaking into the Leicester team – we’ve heard this story before haven’t we?
Simmons looks to be following directly in the footsteps of England scrum-half Ben Youngs.
“We work together lots,” the youngster said of his high-profile Tigers team-mate. “All the time when we’re training and he’s not playing, I’m always picking his brains and he’s helping me out with my kicking and passing.
“So he’s probably been my main idol, it’s quite cool to get the opportunity to pick his brains and he’s been brilliant for me.”
Standing at around 5ft 11ins and 90kg in weight, Simmons looks ready to prove he can handle the top-level demands.
He now has the chance to show what he can do while Youngs is away with England for the autumn internationals, with the Six Nations likely to keep the former British & Irish Lions star away from club action early next year as well.
“I’m not too sure, we’ll see how it goes,” Simmons said on how he expects his season to shape up.
“Ben is going to be away a fair bit with England, which leaves Sammy (Harrison), me and Ben White. So I’ll probably be here for the majority of the season and I hope a get a chance in the Premiership.”
His hopes were boosted last month when 25-year-old New Zealander Jono Kitto was released, with head coach Matt O’Connor saying: “Ben White and Harry Simmons have both come through our academy and are at a stage in their careers where we need to be able to provide those opportunities in senior rugby.
“We see both Ben and Harry playing a significant role in the club’s future success and we look forward to seeing their development alongside senior scrum-halves Ben Youngs and Sam Harrison.”
Those credentials will face a thorough examination this evening, with Bath naming a more experienced line-up, featuring the likes of former England internationals Freddie Burns and Matt Banahan.
However, Tigers coach Geordan Murphy, who takes charge of Anglo-Welsh Cup games was pleased with Simmons’ debut against Gloucester.
“Simmo played really well,” Murphy told the Leicester Mercury. “We are very lucky that we have two very good young nines. It was nice to be able to take Harry off after 60 minutes when he looked like his engine was blowing and Ben went on and did a fantastic job after that.”
Simmons and Mahoney – a former West Norfolk junior from South Wootton who attended King Edward VII School, in King’s Lynn, and Langley School, near Loddon – know they now have to take their opportunities.
• Tonight’s match (7.45pm) is being shown live on BT Sport
• Watch highlights of Leicester’s win over Gloucester above – Simmons was wearing the number nine shirt