Sam Simmonds is understood to have agreed a move to Montpellier ahead of next season as the ripple effect of the Premiership’s reduced salary cap continues.
Sources have indicated that the prolific back-rower, who has scored 80 tries in 116 appearances for Exeter Chiefs, will join the current Top 14 champions as a replacement for Zach Mercer.
Although Simmonds has not been a fixture in the England side under Eddie Jones, having had to wait almost four years before winning a recall and featuring in last season’s Six Nations, this feels like another symbolic move indicative of the Premiership’s financial constraints.
It is unclear at this stage whether Simmonds would be eligible for England at the 2023 World Cup given the Rugby Football Union’s selection policy of keeping to Premiership players.
Discussions are thought to be ongoing, with guidance offered to clubs and players in the coming weeks. Perhaps a more pertinent question is whether this will lead to more fringe internationals joining overseas teams. Certainly, some of Simmonds’ peers will be weighing up offers from further afield.
Now 27, the explosive Simmonds, a British and Irish Lions tourist in 2021, would seem to have his best years ahead of him. He featured in all five matches in the 2022 Six Nations but missed the July series against Australia after undergoing surgery on a hip issue.
In his absence, with Alex Dombrandt also missing because of a knee injury, Billy Vunipola reasserted himself on the Test scene.
England’s back-row options can rarely have been as abundant with Mercer set to be available for World Cup selection next year after agreeing a four-year deal with Gloucester worth around £450,000 a year.
Indeed, Mercer has been a beacon for those contemplating a move away from the Premiership. His form was instrumental in Montpellier’s Top 14 triumph and he was named at the base of the scrum in the league’s team of the season.
Simmonds is well known to Montpellier, having plundered four tries in two matches against them in last season’s Champions Cup, including a hat-trick in Exeter's 37-22 defeat at Altrad Stadium.
In some respects, Exeter have been a victim of their own success as far as player retention. They lost Sam Skinner to Edinburgh last summer and saw both Jonny Hill and Tom O’Flaherty switch across the Premiership to Sale Sharks.
They have a number of influential players, such as Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and Joe Simmonds, up for renewal. Although the losses of Skinner and Hill would be a setback to any club side, there are young back-five forwards pushing through.
Christ Tshiunza, 20, and Richard Capstick, 22, have caught the eye at the start of this season. Both have retained their starting roles for this weekend’s encounter against Harlequins at Sandy Park as Sam Simmonds is primed for a return from the bench.
As much as it will sting to lose Simmonds Snr, a star of Chiefs’ double-winning year in 2020, figureheads at Exeter have been largely phlegmatic about their inability to keep their prize assets under the Premiership salary cap.
“It’s no secret that we were not one of the supporters to reduce the salary cap but it was done and the reality is that we’ve been very successful for many years with a great year in 2020,” club chairman Tony Rowe told Telegraph Sport last month.
“We’ve ended up, I suppose, with too many young, current internationals whose value exceeded what we could afford. But we’ve got to get on. If that’s all the money we’ve got, then we’ve got to let them go.”