Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds says he is getting back to the level he was at when he led the side to Premiership and European Champions Cup titles.
The 25-year-old was captain when Exeter recorded the greatest triumphs in the club’s history in October 2020
But a loss of form early in the season saw him out left of the team and he was on the bench in five of the first nine Premiership games of the season.
“I wasn’t performing at the level I should be,” Simmonds said.
“I’ve been in this squad for four or five years now and at the start it just wasn’t how I had it in my head, I thought I was going to come on, play every week, be one of the best of the best players in the Premiership, but it just didn’t happen that way and I probably put a bit too much pressure on myself.
“I feel like the weeks that I didn’t play, it definitely helped me reflect on who I am and what I’ve done in the past and I think that confidence has moved me on to be where I am now.
“I’m still not where I want to be, but I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.”
Simmonds burst onto the scene in March 2018 when he made his debut in a 24-12 win over title rivals Saracens in a top-of-the-table clash.
After taking over from club legend Gareth Steenson, the younger Simmonds brother was rewarded with the captaincy and his assured leadership helped Exeter win their first-ever European title as he kicked a last-second penalty to secure a 31-27 win over Racing 92.
But Simmonds says defeat by Harlequins in last season’s Premiership final – thanks in part to two late Louis Lynagh tries – affected him more than he expected.
“Losing that game was pretty tough to take and it probably stuck with me a bit too long,” he explained.
“That’s probably what affected me at the start of the season, but I’ve learnt now just to let things go, worrying about things will only make things worse.”
Loss of captaincy ‘the best thing for me’
Simmonds’ loss of form coincided with a decision to give Luke Cowan-Dickie the Exeter captaincy last month on his return to action after injury, following an impressive summer with the British and Irish Lions.
But instead of being another blow to his confidence, Simmonds says the responsibility being taken off his shoulders has helped him.
“It’s probably been the best thing for me,” he told BBC Radio Devon.
“I had a year of it, and a great year it was, but for me now I’ve been there and done that and I know what it feels like, so it’s quite nice to take a step back and be a person that can talk when it feels like I need to.
“Sometimes as captain I felt like I always had to talk, but for me now it’s just coming in when needed to and I feel much more confident from it.
“Obviously if ever given the opportunity to captain the side again I’d love to do that, but at the moment I’m 25 years old and I’m enjoying just sitting back and focusing on what I’ve got to do as a player and as a person.”