Overlooked by England, Chiefs No 8 Sam Simmonds has today been named in the Lions squad. He talks gaming, Steven Gerrard and guilty pleasure with Rugby World…

Downtime with… Exeter star Sam Simmonds

More than three years after he last played for England, Sam Simmonds was today named in Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions 37-man squad to tour South Africa. It’s a selection that Rugby World and many others were pushing for following the impact made by the Exeter Chiefs No 8 in recent years.

Simmonds’s explosive pace and acceleration is unmatched by any of the Lions’ other back-row contenders, making him a formidable runner from deep or in the wide channels. Yet he also thrives in the close-quarter forward work, being strong over the ball and particularly adept at the pick-and-go. His 45 tries in 64 Premiership games is a staggering return.

BT Sport’s Ben Kay says that when it comes to form “Simmonds is almost out on his own in terms of the last 18 months”. And his colleague Dave Flatman branded the 26-year-old Exeter forward “other-worldly” after he had helped Chiefs win at league leaders Bristol.

The current European Player of the Year, Simmonds joins Ireland’s Jack Conan and Welshman Taulupe Faletau as the principal No 8 options in the Lions squad. Here’s an interview with Simmonds for a Downtime feature that ran in the May 2021 issue of Rugby World

Sam Simmonds v Bristol

Simmonds carries v Bristol, when his speed was clocked at over 20mph despite an ankle injury! (Getty)

Sam, what’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the pitch?
Playing for Saxons against South Africa, Alec Hepburn tried a kick that was charged down. Then against Bristol this year, he tried another kick and again it was charged down. Being originally from Australia, he backs his AFL-style kicking and I’ve not seen one work yet! It wasn’t funny at the time but after the game you can have a laugh about it.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Stu Townsend. Just for morale. You can bank on him having a pack of cards on him, or some other sort of game. He’s a guy who whenever you’re in his company you’re having a good time, so he’d be invaluable in a situation like that.

What really annoys you?
I’m quite a big gamer and I’d say losing on FIFA is quite a big one for me. My partner (Emily) would tell she’s heard me on the weekend a lot. I probably get more angry at losing a game of FIFA than from losing a game of rugby.

Any superstitions?
I like to go out behind Joe (Sam’s brother) as we walk out onto the pitch. It’s just something I’ve always done. I guess that’s a kind of superstition.

Downtime with… Exeter star Sam Simmonds

Sam runs out behind brother Joe for a Premiership semi-final in 2018 – his only superstition (Getty)

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
When you get your first England cap, you have to sing a song. In the changing room after my debut (v Argentina, 2017), Eddie (Jones) did his talk about the game. Then I got up and said, “I think I have to sing a song.” I didn’t know it was supposed to be done at the dinner, when you receive your cap. I sung Build Me Up, Buttercup – I wanted the boys to get involved in the chorus! Some of them said I’d have to do it again upstairs (in front of 200 people) but Dylan Hartley let me off. It worked out better getting the embarrassment over and down with then.

What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever bought?
It would be something for our Secret Santa that we do every year. That’s something Stu Townsend absolutely loves. If it’s a present that isn’t taking the mick out of someone you have to own up and you get punished for not getting into people. But if I told you what I’d bought, I might get a forfeit. And it might be a bit inappropriate as well…

Celebrating with Henry Slade and Jack Nowell

Celebrating a Chiefs try in the Champions Cup final with scorer Henry Slade and Jack Nowell (Inpho)

If your house was on fire, what’s the first item you would save?
My European Cup medal from last year, quickly followed by my Xbox. I grew up watching the Heineken Cup, it was awesome. To have our name on the trophy and be able to say I was in that team is amazing.

What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind?
Liverpool Football Club. Say, the last 12 or 15 years, I’d try and back myself on that.

If you could be one of your team-mates, who would you be?
I would say Nowellsy (Jack Nowell) just because of the experience he’s had with the Lions and all those England caps. But he gets injured too much. Maybe Luke Cowan-Dickie just to know what’s going on in his head.

What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
My parents paid to get my England debut shirt framed for me, and my cap. I’d already got my Exeter Premiership one hung up at home. To have the England one next to it is pretty cool.

Tackling Argentina 2017

Bringing down an Argentinian Puma on his England debut in 2017 at Twickenham (Getty Images)

Do you have any nicknames?
Simmo. Or sometimes Chesney, he’s a ginger guy from Coronation Street. Devo (Ollie Devoto) likes to call me that.

What’s the best thing you’ve won from a raffle or a bet?
I’ve not won much. People like Alex Cuthbert and Jonny Hill, they’ve had some big winners in the past at Cheltenham. I’ve been to Cheltenham the past two years and not won one race!

Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?
Steven Gerrard, one of my idols when I was younger. Liam Gallagher of Oasis. Because he likes beer and he’d be quite fun; he’d have some stories from his time in the band. And Donald Trump, just to see what the guy is actually like, how he comes across.

Downtime with… Exeter star Sam Simmonds

Steven Gerrard, the former England midfielder who played more than 500 games for Liverpool (AFP/Getty)

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs. When it gets to the final training session on a Wednesday, I go home and pile into a Ben & Jerry’s.

Best book you’ve read?
I actually haven’t read a book all the way through. I start it and have good intentions of finishing but I always feel I’m missing out on something else if I’m reading a book. I’d rather watch a crime documentary on Netflix.

What was your first job?
My first proper job was as a lifeguard at my local swimming pool in Teignmouth. That was when I was at college, just before I signed my first senior contract with Exeter. It was the easiest money I’ve ever made. The pool wasn’t big and in two years I didn’t once have to jump in. Or even tell anyone off. It was five minutes from my house, so I’d get up ten minutes before my shift, go over there, sit there for a couple of hours and go home.

Downtime with… Exeter star Sam Simmonds

On a team-building exercise on the River Dart in 2016. Simmonds once worked as a lifeguard (Getty)

How would you like to be remembered?
As a good or a great player but also as a good mate by those you played with. You spend a lot of time off the pitch in the team environment, whether it’s going out or socials or away trips. That’s something I’ll look back on when I’m older and say, “These were my best friends.”

The core of this article on Sam Simmonds appeared in the May 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine. Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.