Sam Simmonds has been backed to thrive in a British and Irish Lions environment if he is selected for this summer’s South Africa series.

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Exeter number eight Simmonds scored his 13th Gallagher Premiership try of the season as the Chiefs beat Bath 38-16.

And Lions head coach Warren Gatland was present at the Recreation Ground, where he witnessed another eye-catching display by Simmonds, who continues to be overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones.

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It is three years this month since Simmonds won the last of his seven England caps.

But his continued imperious form is underlined by the fact that he now needs just four more touchdowns with almost half the regular Premiership season left to equal the league try record for one campaign that is jointly held by Christian Wade and Dominic Chapman.

Asked about Simmonds’ possible Lions credentials, Exeter head coach Ali Hepher said: “That’s what Lions tours are about – that quality of player playing with quality players.

“He’s got that ability, with his pace, to be a game-changer in any game. He is of international standard and should be playing (at that standard).

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“But it is what it is, and he has just got to keep on working week in, week out here. You never know where he might get to if he keeps performing well for us.

“He is three years on (from his last England appearance), and he has developed the defensive side of his game – it’s way, way better.

“He still has that explosiveness and he is stronger, naturally, as a player. That development that three years gives you is invaluable.

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“He demands a lot of himself and demands a lot of the team. He is wanting to put his best foot forward and will continue to get better because that is the way we work.”

Exeter trailed by 13 points midway through the second quarter after wing Ruaridh McConnochie scored a try for Bath, which Rhys Priestland converted, and he also kicked two penalties.

But the Chiefs, striving to avoid a third successive Premiership defeat, responded brilliantly, with lock Sam Skinner and wing Tom O’Flaherty each claiming two touchdowns, while Simmonds and Scotland second-row forward Jonny Gray also scored tries.

Joe Simmonds kicked four conversions, with Priestland kicking another penalty for Bath, who were ultimately overpowered despite England flanker Sam Underhill making a strong first appearance since January after recovering from a hip injury.

And it would be no surprise if Underhill now earns an England squad recall ahead of next weekend’s Guinness Six Nations clash against France at Twickenham.

While Exeter climbed back into second place in the table behind Bristol, Bath’s impressive recent run of results came to an end.

Successive victories over Sale Sharks, Gloucester and Northampton left them in good shape to face the reigning league champions, but things unravelled after a bright start as Exeter scored 26 second-half points.

“It was a good start, but against a team like this (Exeter), all the little things add up,” Bath rugby director Stuart Hooper told BT Sport.

“And we didn’t get enough of them right. The top four (in the Premiership) is still achievable, and we reboot and go again against Newcastle next weekend.”

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