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98-Test veteran joins mass Wallabies exodus

That’s how dim things are looking for the cash-strapped code after veteran Wallaby Rob Simmons announced he was joining the mass exodus.Confirming the rumours he has signed to play for London Irish next season, the 31-year-old joins what started out as a trickle but has turned into a flood of players taking up lucrative overseas…

That’s how dim things are looking for the cash-strapped code after veteran Wallaby Rob Simmons announced he was joining the mass exodus.

Confirming the rumours he has signed to play for London Irish next season, the 31-year-old joins what started out as a trickle but has turned into a flood of players taking up lucrative overseas deals.

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The number of evacuees is now so many that it’s almost easier to list who’s sticking around because the high-profile departures include David Pocock, Will Genia, Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Quade Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tolu Latu, Nick Phipps, Adam Coleman and Curtis Rona.

“It was a really tough decision but after speaking with many people around me, I felt that now was the time to take the opportunity to play overseas,” Simmons said.

Already capped 100 times by the Wallabies, Simmons remains available for Test selection under the Giteau Law and no-one will begrudge the 31-year-old for taking up the bigger money on offer in Britain.

After a dozen seasons of Super Rugby – the first nine with Queensland then the last three with the Waratahs – he leaves with the blessing of everyone in Australian and NSW rugby, though it’s another sign of the sorry state the game is in.

The cupboard is quickly becoming bare but who can blame the players after former chief executive Raelene Castle and her board members almost sent the game broke when they opted against signing a broadcast deal that was on the table before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

There’s no guarantee new Wallaby coach Dave Rennie would have selected Simmons this season if, as expected, he wants to start afresh in preparing for the 2023 World Cup.

But the sudden shortage of locks in Australia means Simmons’ experience will be sorely missed during the rebuilding phase.

“He’s been a role model, super consistent in his performance on field and a great ambassador for our game off it – the contribution he’s made to our game over more than a decade has been exceptional,” NSWRU General Manager of Rugby Tim Rapp said.

“As much as we’d love Rob to stay, you have to appreciate the opportunity that’s been placed in front of him – it’s (playing overseas) one of the great things our game has to offer.”

Nowhere will his departure be felt more immediately than at the Waratahs, who had already been the hardest hit of all the Australian Super Rugby teams.

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It’s little wonder the ‘Tahs have hardly won a game under new coach Rob Penney, who appointed Simmons as skipper this season when Michael Hooper announced he didn’t want the job anymore.

“As soon as I arrived at Daceyville it became pretty apparent that Rob was the sort of character that could lead this group through the season, it’s panned out a little differently (with COVID-19) to what we expected but he’s handled himself unbelievably well throughout,” Penney said.

“He leaves a real mark on this group with the experience he’s been able to impart on the next generation of Waratah and while we’re sad to see him go, we understand what a great opportunity this is for Simmo and his young family.”

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