Fast times suit Josh Simmons down to the ground at Shelford
Fly-half flourishing on new Davey Field surface
It is fair to say that there is a transition taking place at Shelford this season.
With the onset of a new all-weather pitch, player-coach Mike Gillick took over a month into the current campaign and set about changing the style of the club’s play.
They have always been associated with a more attritional, forward-driven approach, but with a surface ideally suited to running rugby, a different brand was required.
Therefore, a pivotal figure in getting Shelford in full flight is 23-year-old fly-half Josh Simmons.
The Anglia Ruskin University student is in his second season at the Davey Field, having come to the city to study sports coaching in 2015, and it marked a step into the National Leagues from the Eastern Counties, where he had been playing for Holt.
“I wanted to find a local club and came over to speak to Dick Matthews [the then director of rugby], who said to come along to a couple of training sessions and melded into the team,” said Simmons.
“They play some really good rugby here and I’m enjoying it.
“It works out really well with university then coming here and training Tuesday and Thursday and playing on a Saturday. And it’s a really nice bunch of people here as well, so it’s good.”
Simmons has shown himself more than capable of bringing in those around him – while also able to play for territory with the boot – and is a keen advocate of the running game.
So it is now surprise that he is relishing the new conditions at the Davey Field.
“There is lots of quick ball. We struggled last year with getting quick ball because of the mud, and it was a hard pitch to run on,” he said.
“Now, it’s fast, we’ve got very keen, quick backs, and a very good pack as well to get us further forward.
“We like to keep it in our hands a lot more than kicking it. It’s fast, it’s the game we want to play and it just works in our favour.”
And though he may still be quite raw in a National League rugby sense, Simmons is able to draw on experience playing overseas; he has spent the past two summers in Canada, playing club rugby in the Edmonton area.
“I had a contact from university who went out the year before so I had some friends over that played,” said Simmons.
“I wanted to play some rugby, travel round Canada because from university you have a big summer off.
“It was in the Alberta division, so a bit lower standard than Shelford, and probably about the Nomads [Shelford’s second team] standard.
“It’s pretty good rugby, there are some very large players over there. With the whole ice hockey scene over there, they are very keen and very aggressive.
“It developed my game and my kicking game as well, kicking around the field and putting the forwards in good areas.
“I had a very good pack over there, so I had to go to the corners and most of our tries came from the forwards.
“It developed me as a person as well, growing in confidence by travelling on my own.”
The first trip to Canada led to a setback for Simmons though, as he returned with an injury that put him on the sidelines until the Christmas.
“I had to work hard to get back into the team and talk to the coaches,” he said. “I played a lot of Nomads rugby to work back that way.”
But he has not looked back, and you get the impression that as Shelford’s new style continues to bed in, Simmons – who is hoping to study for a masters in sport coaching – will have an increasing influence on the team.
He was among the points again for Shelford last Saturday, kicking a penalty and a conversion, but it was in a 42-10 defeat to second-placed Barnes in the London & SE Premier Division.