Exeter hero Sam Simmonds is now being tipped for the Lions tour

Never mind England, how about the Lions! Try-scoring sensation Sam Simmonds now being tipped to go on the tour of South Africa as he continues to prove Eddie Jones wrong

  • Sam Simmonds is a relentless phenomenon for Exeter at the moment
  • He is winning vast hordes of admirers but continues to be ignored by England 
  • The 26-year-old is on a try-per-game scoring streak, with records in his sight
  • Simmonds is being touted as a Lions bolter following his heroics for Exeter

It is probably only right to start with an apology to Sam Simmonds. Sorry, because this is unlikely to help — the well-intentioned clamour certainly hasn’t advanced his Test case so far.

But the bandwagon thunders on and it is impossible to resist the urge to jump aboard, regardless of whether it will lead anywhere.

Simmonds is a relentless phenomenon for Exeter and instead of celebrating his startling club feats in their own right, vast hordes of admirers regard the No 8 as someone who is passing international auditions on a weekly basis. 

Sam Simmonds has been tipped as a candidate for the Lions tour after shining for Exeter

Simmonds continues to be ignored by Eddie Jones and England despite his superb form

Something has to give. The 26-year-old is far, far too good to be denied higher honours for ever. He is on a try-per-game scoring streak, with records in reach. He must have run out of space at home for man-of-the-match prizes and he will line up against Lyon at Sandy Park today as the reigning European Player of the Year.

Simmonds has taken on the role previously occupied by the likes of Danny Cipriani, Alex Goode and Steffon Armitage — acclaimed by everyone except the person whose opinion matters most.

Eddie Jones won’t pick him for England, but the great and the good are queuing up to say he is worthy of more caps.

Lawrence Dallaglio regards him as the pre-eminent player in his position in this hemisphere. And former All Black flanker Jerome Kaino added gravitas to the call-up campaign at the end of February when he took to social media to say: ‘Sam Simmonds should be in the England mix. Most consistent loosie (loose forward) in Europe in the last two years.’

That intervention from a double World Cup winner really resonated with the recipient. ‘I saw what Jerome Kaino tweeted,’ said Simmonds. ‘I played against him last year in the semi-final and I was almost in awe of playing against someone who has achieved so much in the game.

‘For him to even watch our games and know who I am or that I’m playing well is as much praise as I could ask for. I definitely find it very cool when legends of the game say nice things about me.’ 

Simmonds is currently on a try-per-game scoring streak for Exeter, with records in reach

Simmonds will line up against Lyon on Saturday as the reigning European Player of the Year

Simmonds is in an awkward position. He will be well aware of the perception that the noise made on his behalf merely reinforces Jones’ stubborn refusal to heed overwhelming evidence and change his mind. But the player still welcomes that noise.

‘There would be a lot to be more annoyed about than people praising you,’ he said. ‘I know that, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean anything but it’s still nice to hear. It confirms that you’re playing well.

‘I just want to keep putting my hand up. If I play well and, off the back of that, I get selected for England then brilliant, but I’m loving playing for Exeter and I think a lot of people can see that I’m enjoying my rugby. I’m doing as much as I can and if it happens, it happens.

‘There was a period when I was a bit down around the time when England squads were getting picked. I guess I was just frustrated that I wasn’t involved, but when the Six Nations was on, I didn’t feel frustrated or annoyed. I just wanted to get on with how I was playing.

‘The coaches all watch so much rugby that if you keep playing well, people are going to notice you, but I’m not the only back-row playing well. Look at Tom Curry’s performances. We play different positions — seven and No 8 — but that is one back-row spot taken up. And Jack Willis was playing well before he got injured.’

In the last month or so, the bandwagon has shifted course, with Simmonds being touted as a Lions bolter after a particularly eye-catching performance for Exeter in front of Warren Gatland. He has been taken aback to be regarded as a candidate for the tour of South Africa, especially given the vast array of back-row talent within the home nations’ Test squads.  

Simmonds put in an eye-catching display for Exeter in front of Lions coach Warren Gatland

‘For me, it has been a bit crazy — people putting my name out there for the Lions,’ he said. ‘It was a bit surreal when that started happening. Unfortunately, I am not playing at the highest level, so I can’t use performances at that level to put me in the hat for selection by Warren Gatland for the Lions. But I don’t know — stranger things have happened, I suppose. All I can do is what is in my control, which is play well for my club. If Warren Gatland sees something in my game that he likes then you never know. But, again, it comes down to one person’s opinion.

‘The reason I’m not getting picked for England is Eddie’s opinion — whatever that is —but Warren Gatland’s opinion could be completely different.

‘It’s not something I’ve thought about, like “You’ve got a chance here” but people like to talk about it. It might not help at all, like with England, but it’s not a bad thing that people are talking about me, I guess.’ 

Lyon have no doubt talked about him a lot in the last week as the French club prepared for what awaits them in Devon today. The Chiefs are defending the title and their Top 14 visitors will provide a powerful last-16 challenge.

The 26-year-old is desperate to continue his fine form ahead of what could be a big summer

‘It’s exciting to get straight into knock-out rugby,’ said Simmonds, ahead of the resumption of the Covid-abbreviated Champions Cup campaign. ‘It’s what we enjoyed last season. We want to push ourselves again.’

On a personal level, he wants to keep pushing himself, too. There are pressing targets beyond maintaining his quest for international recognition. There is a remarkable scoring streak to sustain, for a start.

Asked if he keeps tabs on his try tally, Simmonds said: ‘I know my numbers, yeah! I don’t know how many I’ve scored throughout my career at the Chiefs, but I know what I’m on for the season.

‘It is a motivation for me to go for the Premiership record.’

Simmonds will take some stopping — and so will the clamour which accompanies every stellar performance he produces.




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