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‘My girlfriend had offered to take the day off to watch it with me but I told her not to in case I wasn’t in the squad. If you’re not being picked for your country, you naturally feel like you might not be in the reckoning for the Lions.
‘When they read the names out, they called out two other No8s — Jack Conan and Toby Faletau — before me and I was there thinking, “Ah, that’s it, game over”.
‘So when my face came up on the screen, it was just so surreal. I was buzzing. People say I’m a bolter and that’s exactly what it felt like. My dad, brother and uncle Facetimed me straight away from Teignmouth. Dad had a few tears.
The Exeter Chiefs star has been called up to the Lions despite being out of favour with England
Eddie Jones (L) has snubbed Simmonds, but Warren Gatland (R) has picked him for the Lions
‘It was funny because everyone in contention had their photo taken in a Lions shirt during the Six Nations. I wasn’t involved in the Six Nations, so they had used a photoshopped image and stuck my head on someone else’s shoulders!
‘Fortunately they didn’t use someone massive like Tadhg Furlong’s shoulders because that would have looked a bit weird! In a way, it was cool because it reminds you you’ve sort of come from nowhere.’
Simmonds is used to underdog stories. He became a household name in Exeter’s giant-killing rise in club rugby, while also battling his own issues with injuries, size and selection.
‘The first person I called was Jonny Hill. He’d told us all that he hadn’t received the email saying that he was being considered, so it was a bit of a shock for the rest of us! We joined the club at the same time and lived in the academy house together. Jonny was 6ft 7in, injured, skinny as a rake.
‘I was in my second year at college and had told the teachers that I wanted to play on the wing because I was tiny and I couldn’t see how I was going to get a contract as a No8. We were both injured and it seemed like a crazy thought that one day we’d play for the Lions.
‘There were times when I was worried whether Exeter would keep me on, because I had been out on loan and I wasn’t getting picked in the Championship. Fortunately, Rob had faith in me and things worked out.
‘Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t? I would have stayed around rugby to see what offers came my way because I always backed my ability.