“I’d done pretty much close to the same thing all the way through my career — being based in Australia, playing Super Rugby and playing for my country. Hit that on repeat for 13 to 14 years,” he tells Standard Sport.
“It would be cool to say at the end of my career that I hadn’t just done one thing, even if I did love it; I’d broadened my horizons and given my family some different experiences.”
But within days of arriving in London last month, Simmons was wondering what he had gotten himself into — and you could not blame him.
When Simmons, his wife Lucy and their two children (two, and 10 months old) touched down, the capital was in Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions. A couple of days later, it entered Tier 4. Since he has arrived, a Covid-19 outbreak at London Irish and the suspension of European competition have limited him to just 26 minutes for the club (albeit in a thrilling 27-27 draw at The Stoop). All the while, Simmons was looking back at Australia and a different world of relative normality.
“The Sunday before my last game in Australia it was 43 degrees, then I played the game at Harlequins and it was two degrees,” he smiles.
“In terms of how people are living, before I got here, Covid affected us and certain aspects sucked and we felt we had it pretty bad. But now I realise they have it pretty good. Trying to cross a border that no one really crosses anyway is the worst thing. Brisbane had a three-day lockdown because of six cases. It’s a whole different scale, and they’re treating it a different way.
“It’s been pretty full on, moving the family over, pretty hard. They were testing times and it’s all a bit of a blur. Christmas and New Year are a huge time back home and I did wonder, ‘What have I got myself into?’ It’s been a journey but we’re settling in and looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Simmons might be settling, but he is still experiencing new things — like snow, which captivated him just as much as the children.
“I went on a skiing holiday when I was about 14,” he says. “So I’d seen decent snow before, but I’d never seen it actually falling from the sky like that. He [his older child] was feeding off my energy because I was pretty stoked. He knew something was going on and it wasn’t normal, so he was taking it all in.”
Simmons takes another step towards normality when Irish return to action against Newcastle on Sunday. He says that even to play those few minutes against Quins “helped make it feel more like home”.
It will be his first game at Brentford Community Stadium, as part of perhaps the most itinerant squad in domestic rugby, anywhere. That includes his former Australia team-mates Nick Phipps (who helped him do his “due diligence” on the club), Adam Coleman and Sekope Kepu.
“We’ve got guys from all over the world: Australia, Scottish, obviously England — we’ve even got a Moldovan [Andrei Mahu]! It’s a whole level to what I’m used to back home, where pretty much everyone is brought up in Australia, one or two teams have an international,” he says.
“Here we have all sorts of different from guys from all over the world, with different opinions. Harnessing that is our challenge, but it’s also our edge.”
Simmons has no idea how Irish will respond after playing so little rugby in recent weeks, but he cannot wait to get stuck in.
“I can’t wait for a new challenge,” he says. “As a squad we have probably benefited, as guys who were out injured or carrying niggles haven’t actually missed a lot of games. As for how I’ll be feeling? I don’t know until I play but, hopefully, it’s still all there.”
Get on the field, and his new journey can really begin.