Joe Simmonds “crazy” rise from Exeter fan to captaining Chiefs in European Cup final

Joe Simmonds will pinch himself before leading Exeter out for today’s Champions Cup final at Ashton Gate.

The last time Chiefs were in Bristol for such a big match, Exeter did not even feature on the sporting map of Britain.

Now the city is 80 minutes from becoming rugby capital of Europe.

Simmonds can still picture his 13-year old self watching Gareth Steenson kick Chiefs into the Premiership for the first time.

A decade on he is captain against France’s Racing 92, with legend Steenson his understudy on the bench.

“It’s crazy,” said the fly-half. “I was at the play-off final in 2010 as a fan. It’s been an incredible ride.”

Gareth Steenson kicks Exeter to 2017 Premiership Final victory – seven years after leading them into the Premiership

And all the more special for the fact he is a local lad playing alongside his big brother, England No.8 Sam.

It reads like a Hollywood script, save for the bit about Covid restrictions preventing the family from being at the game.

But the 23-year-old is determined he and Sam give the story a happy ending by getting the better of Finn Russell and his band of Parisian all-stars.

Sam Simmonds is the tournament’s top try scorer with seven

“Our parents gave us so much growing up, always taking us to matches, and it’s nice to give something back to them,” he said.

“Sam and I used to scrap when we lived together and our mum hated it to be honest. But it got us to where we are now, loving playing together week in, week out.

“Playing with Sam drives me to perform better. If I am honest when I started as captain I was always a bit nervous with him sat watching me.

Joe Simmonds kicks for goal against Northampton during Chiefs run to this season’s Premiership Final

“With me being the younger brother he didn’t want to listen. But I think he now respects me more and knows how proud of him I was when he got capped by England.”

Eddie Jones has yet to come calling for Joe but the England boss will be watching closely to see how he deals with the biggest game of his life.

Simmonds jokes that captaining Exeter is not the hardest job in the world as the decision is always to kick to the corner for the forwards to rumble over, as they invariably do.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell goes head to head with Simmonds today

How well Racing are able to deal with Chiefs’ 80-minute pick-and-go game will decide the outcome.

Toulouse started well in the semi-final but were worn down long before the end and finished well beaten.

Racing, finalists twice in the past four years, will have learned from that but knowing what it takes to beat Exeter and actually doing it are two different things.

BT Sport is the home of European Rugby. BT Sport 2 will today show Exeter Chiefs v Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup final from 4pm

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