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.
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.
And that was confirmed when Simmonds, who plans to watch the squad announcement with Exeter team-mates, 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’.
“It was quite nice to have that reassurance. If nothing comes of it, at least I know I’ve 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 am not just a ball-carrier and try-scorer.
“My tackle numbers are up there for the Premiership this year and I think both sides of the ball I can have an impact.”