Don’t mind England, what about the LIONS! Sam Simmonds is now being tipped for a tour of South Africa
It’s probably only right to start with an apology to Sam Simmonds. Sorry, because this probably won’t help – the well-intentioned screaming certainly hasn’t brought up its test case yet.
But the cart rumbles on, and it’s impossible to resist the urge to jump aboard, regardless of whether it leads anywhere.
Simmonds is a relentless phenomenon for Exeter and rather than celebrating his surprising club achievements in its own right, huge hordes of admirers consider the No. 8 someone who stands up to weekly international auditions.
Sam Simmonds has been tipped as a candidate for the Lions tour after starring for Exeter
Simmonds continues to be ignored by Eddie Jones and England despite his excellent form
Something must give. The 26-year-old is far, far too good to be denied higher honor forever. He’s on a try-per-game scoring streak, with records at his fingertips. He needs no more room for man-of-the-match prizes at home and will play Lyon today at Sandy Park as the reigning European Player of the Year.
Simmonds has taken on the role previously taken by Danny Cipriani, Alex Goode and Steffon Armitage – praised by all but the person whose opinion matters most.
Eddie Jones won’t pick him out for England, but the great and the good are lining up to say he’s worth more caps.
Lawrence Dallaglio considers him the player of choice in his position in this hemisphere. And former All Black flanker Jerome Kaino added gravitas to the callout campaign in late February when he said on social media, ‘Sam Simmonds should be in the English mix. Most consistent loosie (loose forward) in Europe in the past two years. ‘
That double World Cup winner intervention really resonated with the recipient. “I saw what Jerome Caino tweeted,” said Simmonds. ‘I played him in the semifinals last year and I was almost impressed by playing against someone who has achieved so much in the match.
That he even looks at our games and knows who I am or that I play well is as much credit as I could ask for. I think it’s absolutely 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 play against Lyon on Saturday as reigning European Player of the Year
Simmonds is in an awkward position. He will be well aware of the perception that the noise being made on his behalf reinforces Jones’s persistent refusal to heed overwhelming evidence and change his mind. But the player still welcomes that sound.
“There would be a lot more to annoy you more than people who praise you,” he said. ‘I know, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s still nice to hear. It confirms that you are playing well.
‘I just want to keep raising my hand. If I play well and, apart from that, I get selected for England and then brilliantly, but I like to play for Exeter and I think a lot of people can see that I enjoy my rugby. I do as much as I can and when it happens it happens.
‘There was a period when I was a little down around the time English squadrons were picked. I think I was just frustrated that I wasn’t involved, but when the Six Nations were running I didn’t feel frustrated or annoyed. I just wanted to get on with how I played.
‘The coaches all watch so much rugby that if you keep playing well people will notice you, but I’m not the only one who plays well. Watch Tom Curry’s performances. We play different positions – seven and No. 8 – but that’s a spot in the back row. And Jack Willis played well before he got injured. ‘
In the past month or so, the bandwagon has changed course, with Simmonds being touted as a Lions bolter after a particularly eye-catching Exeter performance for Warren Gatland. He was amazed to be considered a candidate for the South Africa tour, especially given the sheer number of rear talents within the home nations’ test teams.
Simmonds provided a standout display for Exeter for Lions coach Warren Gatland
“For me it was a bit crazy – people put my name there for the Lions,” he said. ‘It was a bit surreal when that started. Unfortunately, I don’t play at the highest level, so I can’t use performance 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 guess. The only thing I can do is what I have under control, which is to play well for my club. If Warren Gatland sees something in my game that he likes, you never know. But again, it comes down to one person’s opinion.
“The reason I’m not going to be elected to England is Eddie’s opinion — whatever that is — but Warren Gatland’s opinion could be very different.
“It’s not something I’ve thought about like,“ You have a chance here, ”but people like to talk about it. It might not help at all, like with England, but it’s okay that people are talking about me, I guess. ‘
Lyon has undoubtedly been talking a lot about him over the past week as the French club prepared for what awaits them in Devon today. The Chiefs defend the title and their Top 14 visitors provide a powerful Last-16 challenge.
The 26-year-old is desperate to get in good shape in the run-up to what could be a big summer
“It’s exciting to get into knockout rugby right away,” said Simmonds ahead of the resumption of the Covid-shortened Champions Cup campaign. ‘We enjoyed that last season. We want to push ourselves again. ‘
On a personal level, he also wants to keep pushing himself. There are urgent goals beyond his quest for international recognition. For starters, there is a remarkable score bar to hold on to.
Asked if he’s keeping an eye on his attempts, Simmonds said, “I know my numbers, yes! I don’t know how much I’ve scored in my career with the Chiefs, but I know what I’m doing for the season.
“It is a motivation for me to go for the Premiership record.”
Simmonds will pause for a moment – and so will the buzz that comes with every great performance he produces.