England back-rower Sam Simmonds on the injury that wrecked his season

Sam Simmonds sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
Eight months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Worcester, the England back-rower is back.
Simmonds has seen that left leg — on which he now bears a thin purple scar — wither while bed-ridden for two weeks. He has had to learn to run again and experienced the most pain he has ever felt in his 24 years.
But now faster, stronger, more physically and mentally robust the Exeter Chief is out of the shadows.
Back in September, though, they encircled him.
It had all been sunshine and rainbows before then. Going from a bench-warmer at the Cornish Pirates to a Premiership champion Chief in 2017, Simmonds won a first England cap that November against Argentina.
The No 8 then put together a remarkable first full league season, scoring 12 tries as Exeter made the final again.
'The good times kept rolling,' he remarks, looking back.
The Teignmouth lad with the fiery hair who still lived with his mum had lit up the league.
Crowned the 'Discovery of the season' last May he was given a free Land Rover, as part of the sponsorship deal for the award.
Since, Simmonds has played four matches in a year and next week has to hand back the car - hardly having been able to drive it as his leg did not work for months.
'I'm looking for a new car if anyone's interested!' Simmonds laughs in his first interview since the gruesome injury.
An unused tourist with England in South Africa last June, he flew back into the Premiership having had little time to prepare. Five tries in four matches to start the season. Then, snap.
On September 29 at Sandy Park around half-time he felt excruciating pain through his knee. Then it dulled.
'It hurt on the pitch, but sitting on the bench watching the rest of the game I didn't think it was that bad,' he explains.
'I got home, spoke to my family and girlfriend and said "hopefully it's just a little tweak".' 'The physios wanted me to go for a scan and said at the time "it could be your ACL".
'Still then I was thinking it probably isn't. Then the results came back and it was. At the time I was quite upset and emotional.
'It dawned that I would have to work so hard to get to where I want to be.' Boy, he has. In the week leading up to his operation, Simmonds worked to 'fire' his quadriceps muscles - in the gym lifting light weights - in preparation for surgery.
For months after it he would come into the club every day - driven in by his father David - to work tireless on strengthening his knee.
David would sit outside until Sam had finished squatting up to 28st 4lbs (180kg) - almost double his body weight.
Then, back home in Teignmouth with mum Nicola and sister Leah he would just lie in bed, his family periodically dressing his wounds and adjusting his brace.
Meanwhile, younger brother Joe was doing what Sam was desperate to - starring for Exeter as they surged up the table.
'Those first three weeks were definitely the most pain I've ever been in,' says Simmonds.
'All my calf muscles pretty much went, the quad too. You could see them going - it looked like a completely different leg to my right.
'Your legs forget how to run, if you don't for two or three months.
'Those early days were hard. I'm lucky to have family around - if you're doing that stuff on your own you're struggling.' With no rugby to play Simmonds engrossed himself in two hobbies; following his football side Liverpool's fortunes and making a cider with his team-mates.
Because, of course, if you are an Exeter Chief with time on your hands, you make cider.
Suitably called 'Rib Tickler' the golden nectar is already sold in the city's bars - 'Hole in the Wall', 'Timepiece' and the pub belonging to Chiefs' fly-half Gareth Steenson 'The Stand Off' are stocked for summer.
'We've taken it from picking the apples, to pressing them, deciding the flavours, how it's going to taste, the percentage, the branding, bottling and everything like that,' says Simmonds with pride.
'We've had good feedback so far - a few boys have moaned that they've had headaches after drinking it! It's only five per cent, so not too bad!
'It's not cloudy… it pretty much tastes like apple juice, so it's easy to drink - maybe that's why they're moaning because they've had a lot of it! It's a bit dangerous! I love it.
'It's all for charity - the Exeter Foundation - and anything sold outside of the South West the proceeds go to the Wooden Spoon charity.
'It was something to keep my mind busy.' Now, at last, rugby is at the forefront of Simmonds' mind. He is ready. Recently he hit a personal best top-speed of 21mph in training - making him just two mph slower than England's quickest player Jonny May.
He has come a long way from re-learning how to run. His director of rugby Rob Baxter declares himself 'elated' to see his young No 8 back.
'He looks quicker, stronger, fitter and bigger than he ever has done before,' he says.
'All the weapons are there for him to use, now he has to unleash it with some confidence.' Known for his devilish footwork and super speed, Simmonds is determined to sign off his toughest year in style.
'I would be lying if I said the World Cup wasn't an aim,' says the back-rower with seven caps.
'But I have to perform for Exeter first. I'm not happy with playing for England a couple of times, lifting the Premiership once - I want to keep pushing myself.
'Everything is going my way now, and there's nothing to worry about now. I'll be absolutely fine.
'If we do get to the final and end up winning it I won't look back at being injured, that's all that will matter to me.
'Hopefully we get to there and Liverpool win the Champions League, then June 1 could be a big day!
'On the bus home we'll have a couple of Rib Ticklers!' Now out of the dark, Simmonds is ready to be a shining beacon for club and country once more. 

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