SAM SIMMONDS was the fisherman’s son making big waves for the Cornish Pirates back in 2017.
Now, instead of earning £300-a-game on loan at the Championship side, the 26-year-old Exeter No. 8 has landed the biggest catch in a dazzling career with his sensational Lions call-up.
Jones has shown blind faith in the nose-diving from of Billy Vunipola – as Simmonds won the European player-of-the-year award after helping Exeter to their first ever Champions Cup and another Premiership title.
And super-coach Warren Gatland, who promised to pick his Lions squad on form, has rewarded the quiet lad from a sleepy seaside town down in Devon.
The Teignmouth Tornado first picked up a rugby ball with the club’s mini section when he was just eight-years-old.
Even though he’s one of the lighter no.8s in world rugby at just 16 stone, Simmonds’ power and pace is fuelled by typical Teignmouth tucker whenever he pops home.
He said: “Whenever I go to my Dad’s he’s always got crab, lobster, almost any type of shellfish going. It’s a bonus, isn’t it?
“When I first came to Exeter I was pretty small — the captain Jack Yeandle said I was absolutely tiny.
“I was only 14st, but I spent a lot of time in the gym rehabbing a knee injury. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because that was when I really pushed on with my weight- lifting.”
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Simmonds might not be a heavyweight in raw numbers on the scales.
But on the pitch he leads the try-scoring charts with 14 in the league already this season.
He also joins in sprint training with the likes of Exeter and England team-mate Jack Nowell at Sandy Park.
Yet four years ago he was terrorising the Championship with the Cornish Pirates in Penzance.
Chiefs then called him back for a run-out in the Anglo-Welsh Cup — and he never went back.
A try eight minutes into his first Premiership start against Wasps in 2017 was followed three months later with another in the final minute to sink Saracens and send Chiefs on their way to their first Twickenham title.
And at the time, none of this was any surprise to his old Pirates boss Gavin Cattle.
He said: “Someone like Sam doesn’t come along every day. We always knew we had a special player.
“It was strange watching Sam for England on Sunday.
“Only last season I was at home doing reviews of him on a tape of games against Doncaster or Bedford.
“Pirates’ facilities aren’t nice and shiny like up the road at Sandy Park. You have to be committed to play on our back pitch — it’s a mudbath.
“But from day one Sam’s work-rate and commitment were exceptional. He was never shy of grafting.
“He played at no.7 for us, but he’s now ripping up what a modern-day no. 8 can do.
“I think you could play him in the centre or even the wing, he is that good and quick enough.
“We have all got an idea what a no.8 looks like, but the way the game is going someone with the ability of Sam can play anywhere across the back row and cause damage.”
Simmonds made his England debut as a replacement in Argentina when the Lions toured New Zealand in 2017.
He then played 18 minutes against Australia that autumn and made his first start in the win over Samoa a week later.
But he was still Jones’ third-choice until Saracens star Vunipola fractured a forearm and Nathan Hughes was KO’d by a knee injury.
Former Chiefs and Sale Sharks fly-half Dan Mugford — whose cousin Emily goes out with Simmonds — was never surprised with the impact his buddy made.
He added: “Sam is like family to me and everyone down here in Devon is so proud of him.
“We were round at my uncle’s on Sunday with my cousin Emily all watching England on TV.
“He is a phenomenal player and very different to anyone else in the game right now.”
BRITISH LIONS SQUAD
WARREN GATLAND has named his British Lions squad to face South Africa:
Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales) – Wing
Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland) – Centre
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) – Fly-half
Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) – Centre
Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) – Scrum-half
Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) – Fly-half
Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) – Centre
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) – Centre
Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) – Full-back
Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) – Scrum-half
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) – Scrum-half
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales) – Wing
Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland) – Fly-half
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) – Wing
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) – Wing
Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) – Full-back
Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) – Second row
Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) – Back row
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) – Hooker
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) – Back row
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) – Prop
Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) – Back row
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) – Prop
Jamie George (Saracens, England) – Hooker
Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland) – Second row
Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England) – Second row
Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) – Second row
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) (Captain) – Second row
Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) – Prop
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) – Second row
Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) – Hooker
Andrew Porter (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) – Prop
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England) – Back row
Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) – Prop
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales) – Back row
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) – Prop
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) – Back row