Former British and Irish Lions centre Jamie Roberts has backed Exeter Chiefs No.8 Sam Simmonds to be a shock call-up for the tour of South Africa.
This week it was confirmed that the Lions are aiming to tour SA as originally intended, and Roberts believes that Simmonds could pip Billy Vunipola for the tour, despite not be involved with Eddie Jones’ England set-up.
England incumbent Vunipola struggled to find his best form in the Guinness Six Nations, while Simmonds has continued to play out of his skin for the Exeter Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership.
Roberts told The Offload Podcast, while speaking with Exeter and England star Jack Nowell and Racing 92 fullback Simon Zebo, that “It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Gats picks him ahead of Billy for the Lions”.
Fellow former Lions player Simon Zebo went one further, saying: “I’d have him starting. Like straight into the starting XV. His form for the last year and a half has been outrageous.”
Nowell, who is currently sidelined with injury said of his teammate: “He does stuff, even in training, that no back row should be able to do. The feet he’s got, his hands are very good, he’s strong. He’s not the biggest of players, and he’d say that himself, but he’s definitely one of the quickest in our team.
“He’s not very gym strong but in terms of what he does on the pitch, he’s ridiculous,” revealed Nowell.
“I know he’s definitely knocking on the [England] door and close to being there. Eddie is pretty straight forward what he [Simmonds] needs to do.
“Everyone watching knows that what he’s doing is class. Our coaches know it. He’s winning by himself for us at times… He’s very close. He needs to not drop off and keep going.”
Presenter Christina Mahon pointed out that it could leave egg on the face of head coach Eddie Jones, if Simmonds does jump over England into the Lions squad this summer.
“The game is about opinion,” said Roberts. “Opinions of us as players, opinions of coaches, which probably matter more, because of whether they pick you or not; the opinions of the press. And the opinions of fans. It [the game] revolves around opinion.
“There are so many great players out there who have never played Test rugby because a coach never rated them. And then there were players who went on to really good Test careers who weren’t that good, like myself,” joked the 94-cap Wales international. “It’s all on opinion, you might be in favour, you might be out of favour.”
“It might baffle a lot of people, but it’s why Eddie Jones is in his job and why he gets paid so much.”
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