Simmonds’ impressive campaign with Exeter has earned him a spot in the back row of Gatland’s 37-man squad, more than three years since he won the the last of his seven England caps.
While Eddie Jones has consistently ignored the clamour for Simmonds’ selection, Gatland contacted the current European player of the year to let him know he was firmly on the Lions’ radar, before ultimately calling him up.
FOLLOW LIVE: British and Irish Lions squad announced
And that was confirmed when Simmonds 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.”
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