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Sam Simmonds’ bags are packed for the British and Irish Lions tour – but they remain in storage ahead of another Gallagher Premiership title tilt.
The Exeter number eight will fly to South Africa on Sunday as part of a 37-man Lions squad to tackle the world champion Springboks.
It is an ultimate reward for a breathtaking season that has seen Simmonds score a Premiership record 20 tries, be named player of the season and the Rugby Players’ Association players’ player of the year.
🏆 Gallagher Player of the Season🏆 Gallagher Player of the Month🏆 Top Try-scorer🏆 @premrugby award for breaking the record for tries in a season
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) June 18, 2021
His immediate priority, though, is Exeter’s Premiership final appointment with Harlequins at Twickenham, where victory for the Chiefs would make it three domestic crowns in five seasons.
“I am really looking forward to it (the Lions tour),” Simmonds said.
“I met up with the guys a month or so ago, and they were very friendly and very open. It was nice to get to chat to them all, nice to feel that buzz and that excitement.
“They have obviously had two weeks together and they are preparing for a game (against Japan) this weekend, but hopefully us boys at Chiefs can do a job this weekend and then slot straight in to Lions rugby, which is great.”
The Countdown is On
The Chiefs are primed and ready, Twickenham is calling.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) June 25, 2021
From the Premiership’s opening weekend seven months ago, when Simmonds scored a hat-trick of tries against Quins, he has maintained blistering form.
He broke the league’s try-scoring record jointly held by Dominic Chapman and Christian Wade, has gained 983 metres across the season, beaten a total of 60 defenders and made 224 tackles.
It has proved a virtuoso effort by the 26-year-old, and he has no intention of taking his foot off the accelerator when Exeter aim for back-to-back titles.
“The motivation is to win,” he added. “We have had years where we’ve had great seasons and not gone on to win, and great seasons when we have gone on to win.
“The motivation – not just for me but for the team, the coaches and everyone here at Exeter – is to get another trophy.
“We want one more to our name – one more in the trophy cabinet. It doesn’t matter what has happened during the year, we are here now and my motivation is to win again.
“There has been a lot of talk about other teams this year – have Exeter been as good as last year? – and we want to show people that we are.
“The last season and a half have all rolled into one, and it has been hard, it has been a slog at times.
“But we’ve got to deal with what we can control, and largely throughout the year we have been really good. We have been on our game a lot.
“As much as it is great for both teams to get to a final, you only remember the winners. We’ve been there before and lost, and it hurts.”
Despite his sustained excellence, Simmonds remains on the outside in England terms, having won the last of his seven caps in March 2018.
The Lions call-up only magnified his lack of England recognition, but it is not something that affects him.
Throwback to last year's @premrugby 𝓕𝓲𝓷𝓪𝓵 🏉
— Twickenham Stadium (@Twickenhamstad) June 24, 2021
“I just kind of put it to the back of my head – the whole England thing,” Simmonds added.
“In previous years it might have affected me, being younger and not getting selected.
“If you stop and worry about it or think, ‘why am I not getting selected?’ or think you are playing well and pat yourself on the back a little bit, you can get a bit lost in terms of what is right in front of you.
“What is right in front of us at the moment is winning the Premiership.”