Directing Sam Simmonds’ Lions Tour

Sam Simmonds says last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa made him realize how much he missed international rugby.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland has selected Exeter’s number eight – Simmonds introduced as a substitute in the Third Test – for his side, despite being surplus to England requirements.

Simmonds hadn’t represented his country since March 2018, but Gatland have seen enough in the 27-year-old’s immense form to warrant a place on the plane.

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Simmonds, European player of the year in 2020, has since returned to the England fold, doubling his cap tally to 14 by appearing in seven Tests this season.

“That (Lions tour) was the start of me wanting to get back into the English fold,” said Simmonds, ahead of Exeter’s Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg against Munster on Saturday.

“It made me realize what I had missed out on due to injury or not being selected, so it gave me a boost, and being selected again was amazing.

“Over time, when I wasn’t selected, I just felt like something was missing and I wanted to test myself again and come back to play at the highest level.

“I enjoyed playing for England, I enjoyed training, I enjoyed testing myself again at this level.

“Maybe in the past I was a bit of a rabbit in the headlights and maybe I didn’t take the opportunity that came my way and I didn’t really express myself, whereas I feel like the Lions gave me the confidence to do that, and that added to playing for England.

Simmonds had starred in a 38-16 Exeter win over Bath, with Gatland watching, before a call came from the Lions boss.

“Warren said he knew I wasn’t playing international rugby at the time, but I was still doing what I was doing and would definitely be considered,” he added.

“It was literally like a minute and a half (talk), but for me it was fine.

“For some reason I wasn’t selected for England at the time but I felt like I was in good shape so it was nice to still be able to be recognized when you’re not playing. really in international rugby.”

Simmonds has been one of England’s most consistent performers in a disappointing Guinness Six Nations campaign this term. Despite finishing third, Eddie Jones’ team lost three games.

But the focus now shifts fully to the Chiefs, with Munster standing between them through home and away legs and a place in the quarter-finals.

Exeter, European champions penultimate season, remain in a play-off position for the Gallagher Premiership despite losing nine of their 21 league matches.

“It was random, wasn’t it?” said Simmonds. “It was a troubled season with results, and things didn’t go our way in many ways.

“It was exciting to watch the boys play while I was out for the Six Nations to really get us back in contention to secure a top four spot.

“When I’ve played against Irish opponents in the past, those are pretty much test matches.

“That’s what you expect from Irish teams, and you expect that from knockout games, and we won’t hesitate to do that. We’re going to enjoy it.

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Charles P. Patton