Sam Simmonds believes his selection in the British & Irish Lions starting XV against the Sharks is the perfect opportunity to repay coach Warren Gatland’s faith in him.
Simmonds was one of the shock inclusions in Gatland’s Lions squad, especially so since he had been frozen out by England coach Eddie Jones and had last played Test rugby back in March 2018, despite being named European Player of the Year last season and winning the Premiership award this season after scoring a record 21 tries.
But Gatland called him up to the Lions squad and the 26-year-old made his debut for the composite team when he came off the bench in their 54-14 win over the Sigma Lions this past Saturday.
On Monday, he was named in the Lions run-on XV for their second match of the tour against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Wednesday. Simmonds is adamant to prove that Gatland had been right to bring him along to South Africa despite Jones’ obvious reluctance to include him in his England plans.
“When you start out you really get the opportunity to show off what you can do and hopefully put what I’ve been doing over the past year in a Lions jersey,” he said.
“As soon as I was selected for the Lions team my only goal was to push everyone here, to try to get as many games as possible and as a team the ultimate goal is to win the Test series in South Africa.
“Since you were selected this is what you have been waiting for, to be able to put on the jersey and represent the Lions and just be among them with all the history and the players that have been before you.”
Simmonds says Gatland’s continued support gives him confidence, which he hopes shines through in his performance against the Sharks.
“Gats pretty much said, ‘Get out there and just do what you did’,” Simmonds added.
“It’s not quite a free license, but he told me to free myself and go and prove why they picked me and why I’m on the team.
“They are the ones who gave me this opportunity. It is then up to me to put my game on the opposition. The training was like that. It was short and to the point. This allows you to enter the game directly.”
Simmonds admits he is bracing himself for a physical onslaught from every local team the Lions play against, but says he has received some vital intel on that score from a couple England-based South Africans.
“I don’t think I’ve met a South African who isn’t physical. Playing with Jacques Vermeulen and Jannes Kirsten, it is around this that their game is built – physicality.
“They gave me some tips for coming here to their country. It was a physical match on Saturday. Their forwards got up and we managed to score a lot of points on the side.
“There are a lot of things to work on, which is always good after a first game. But, yeah, I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s challenge.”
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