Sam Simmonds is in with a good chance of being selected for the British and Irish Lions despite not playing for England, according to Jamie Heaslip.
Exeter Chiefs number eight Simmonds has not played for England since 2018, but is tearing it up for his club and is currently the top try-scorer in this season’s Gallagher Premiership.
Former Ireland international Jamie Heaslip was at the launch of The Next Step, Focus Ireland’s Virtual Marathon and admitted that he would not be surprised to see Lions head coach Warren Gatland select Simmonds.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) March 18, 2021
Jamie Heaslip on Sam Simmonds.
“100 per cent. Gats loves throwing a cat in amongst the pigeons from what I can see,” Heaslip said.
“If there’s one thing about Gats – he picks on form. I think there’s a very good case for Sam Simmonds being one of the form back rows in England right now.
“But I’ll tell you what, that English back row – there is some quality in there.”
While Heaslip, who toured with the Lions in 2009 and 2013, thinks Simmonds is in with a chance of featuring for Gatland’s side this summer, he reckons Taulupe Faletau is the best choice at number eight.
“Toby Faletau. It’s actually quite interesting. I just really like Toby. He’s more of a footballing eight. That’s my personal preference but that’s not taking away from Billy Vunipola,” Heaslip commented.
“I think those two are probably the guys that are jousting for that position. But wouldn’t it be really interesting if you put Toby and Billy in the same back row?”
‘You’ve got to get the right blend.’
While coaches will often be tempted to simply select the best performing players at each position, Heaslip explained why that line of thinking may not always result in the best outcome.
A back-row will ideally have a player that specialises in carrying, tacking and poaching opposition ball. While that may mean an in-form player misses out, it will mean that the team is not lacking in a crucial area.
“Gats has got to think about what kind of team is he going to be picking? What’s the style they’re going to play? Who are the players around them and how does it all work around them?” Heaslip commented.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as people going, ‘He’s the best eight. He’s the best six. He’s the best seven. Because they could all be playing in different formats and different styles and different ways.
“So you’ve got to get the blend of that right first.”