Simpson chases second bite at England's Red Rose
April 16, 2014
Joe Simpson is just 25 but has already racked up 128 Wasps appearances © Getty Images
"There wasn't any point wallowing in self-pity. Once you've gone out there and do your job, you can cry all you want afterwards."
It is easy to forget that Joe Simpson is still 25. He has racked up 128 appearances for London Wasps at senior level and, in what feels like an ancient era, represented England at the 2011 World Cup. More striking than those reminders though, is his manner. The scrum-half speaks with the assurance of a player with a decade more on-field experience.
In the macho world of professional rugby where collisions are the principal currency, admitting moments of doubt requires maturity. On January 7, Simpson's mother Brigid died after a six-month battle with melanoma, capping "the most emotional period" of his life.
"I wouldn't say I've learned anything or that I'm stronger for it," Simpson says. "I won't go down that sob story and say it's helped me. What I will say is that I was touched by the response of everyone at Wasps. My friends, Dai [Young], all the coaches and fans were fantastic. It meant a lot."
Rather than seek refuge, Simpson immersed himself in his job. He scampered over for the match-winning try against Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership just two days before Brigid passed away and turned out influential cameos from the bench on successive Amlin Challenge Cup weekends. Following a sniping score to cap a 64-17 defeat of Viadana, there was a poignant point to the sky. Simpson's demeanour remains matter-of-fact.
"When I was on the pitch, I let myself slip into rugby mode," he explains. "It was mentally draining, but I am part of a rugby team. I'm a rugby player. I wanted to go out and give my all for the boys because they have been so supportive. I felt it was necessary to play.
"The Exeter match has probably been my best performance of the season so far, so it was pleasing that I could still pull something out of the bag under extreme pressure. It gave me belief - not only in my rugby ability but also in the knowledge that I had the strength of personality to try and get out there and not be too distracted."
Joe Simpson is targeting a win against Gloucester this weekend © Getty Images
There has never been any secret about his ambition to add to a solitary Test cap, but Simpson is well aware of the ferocious competition for England's No.9 berth. Danny Care is far ahead thanks to a stellar Six Nations, with Lee Dickson and Ben Youngs scrapping hard to deputise. Gloucester's Dan Robson and Dave Lewis of Exeter are promising talents too.
Stuart Lancaster does recognise the value of 'something from nothing players' though. Blessed with electric pace and a predatory instinct, Simpson is certainly one of those. A record of one try in every five games is a superb career strike-rate for a scrum-half - most of them have been stunners as well. Outlining his credentials for the lead-up to 2015, Simpson's conviction is refreshing, not to mention justified.
"I know what I can bring in terms of running, kicking and organisational skills," he adds. "I would like to think that I can create a spark, whether that's putting someone through a gap or squeezing through myself to open up the match.
"Particularly at international level, legs are tired when you've got to the last 20 minutes. That could be my forte for England. Off the bench you want someone who can up the pace and add to the team rather than slow a game down."
Appropriately given these aspirations, Simpson's next stop is Twickenham for Wasps' Aviva Premiership tie with Gloucester. Dubbed 'The Stinger', there is a lot riding on it. Both sides are in the mix for seventh spot - a place that now brings a Rugby Champions Cup play-off against the corresponding finisher in the Top 14. With Sale starlets James Gaskell and Rob Miller set to arrive this summer, participation in Europe's premier competition could help revive the glory years in High Wycombe.
Wasps' season collectively has been more miss than hit - they have the nine losing bonus points from 19 games. Even so, Simpson believes composure and a more clinical edge in possession can solve the stuttering. A recent Amlin clash ended comprehensively in Wasps' favour, but Gloucester outfit will be riled by the perceived injustice of a fiery West Country derby.
"They are coming off the back of a feisty match last weekend which would have taken its toll," Simpson says. "It'll be all guns-blazing with an attacking brand of rugby being played - hopefully attractive for everyone to watch. If the weather holds up it could be a great spectacle.
"Gloucester will be looking forward to playing on such a fast track and we'll need to neutralise their threats. If we play the rugby we know we can play, it'll put them under pressure."
If Simpson is at his thrilling best, he will put forward a compelling case for involvement on England's tour to New Zealand. His late mother Brigid, a big influence on his formative years in rugby, hailed from Cambridge in Waikato on the North Island. A trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud would surely feel like a cathartic end to Simpson's trying campaign.
London Wasps take on Gloucester Rugby in The Stinger on Saturday 19th April at 3:15pm, exclusively live on BT Sport. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.co.uk/wasps
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