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What Lions boss Gatland said when he first contacted Sam Simmonds earlier this year

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Sam Simmonds received assurances from Warren Gatland that he would be considered for British and Irish Lions selection despite being frozen out by England. Simmonds’ rampaging season at Exeter has placed him in contention for a back row spot when Gatland names his 36-man squad on Thursday, more than three years after winning the last of his seven caps.

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While Eddie Jones has consistently ignored the clamour for his selection, Gatland contacted the current European player of the year to let him know he is firmly on the Lions’ radar. That was confirmed when Simmonds, who plans to watch the Lions squad announcement with Exeter teammates, was among those to receive an email asking if he would be available to tour.

“Earlier in the year, we had a brief chat because I wasn’t playing in the Six Nations. He [Gatland] told me not to worry about that, to keep playing well for my club,” Simmonds said. “This was actually before the tour to South Africa was confirmed. He said, ‘If you keep doing what you’re doing, then we’ll see what happens’.

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Jean de Villiers guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

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Jean de Villiers guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

“It was quite nice to have that reassurance. If nothing comes of it, at least I know I have performed well. Even though I haven’t been playing international rugby I know I’m getting the same chances as the other boys are. I didn’t really think much about the Lions until speaking to Warren Gatland and seeing him watch our games.

“End of last season, I didn’t even think ‘oh, next season is the Lions tour’ because I didn’t feel close enough to it. I wasn’t playing at the highest level, so why would you consider someone playing at club rugby?”

Simmonds is an explosive carrier who also provides stopping power in defence and his all-action style could be a valuable asset in the three-Test series against the Springboks. “I’d hope I bring energy, whether impact off the bench or starting. I might not have the amount of carries as some of the bigger players but I feel every time I touch the ball it is an effective carry,” Simmonds said.

“Whether it is in the wide channels or in traffic, it is not just bulldozing my way through, it is about finding other ways of beating defenders and gaining metres. Fitness and work-rate wise, I like to think I’m not just a ball-carrier and try-scorer. My tackle numbers are up there for the Premiership this year and on both sides of the ball I can have an impact.”

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Turlough 2 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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