Sam Simmonds can be a handful in South Africa if the Lions play to his strengths, Warren Gatland has been told.
Exeter No.8 Simmonds smashed the Premiership record for most tries in a season at London Irish on Tuesday night.
His hat-trick gave him an unprecedented 19 for the top flight campaign and there are still three rounds to go.
Simmonds now has 50 in 66 Premiership games for Chiefs but at 6ft and 16 stone there are those who wonder if he can really have the same impact at international level.
Having ignored him since 2018 England boss Eddie Jones would appear to think not, yet Exeter coach Ali Hepher is convinced his No.8 can deliver against the giants of Springboks rugby if utilised correctly,
Hepher said: “Sam is quicker than any forward in the northern hemisphere, but you’ve got to use him in the right way.
“If you manage him smartly, he’s a handful. We manipulate situations, position him in places, to get him on the ball plenty of times.”
When Simmonds rocked up at Sandy Park as an 18-year-old weighing little more than 13 stone, Chiefs were not sure what to make of him.
“We always knew he had speed and ability on the ball,” said Hepher, who was in charge of the backs. “But we were asking if he’d come through as a forward. We weren’t sure.
“I was sitting in the background thinking ‘I could grab him here because he’s certainly got the speed of a back’.
“Helped by Thomas Waldrom he found a way to get on the ball. And from there he started to accelerate through and into the team. The guys do the hard work to get him into positions, where there is no one better at converting.”
Size does matter though in South Africa where Simmonds’ prospective opposite number Duane Vermeulen, all 6’4 and 18 and a half stone, is part of a colossal Springbok pack – and far from the biggest part.
But Gatland hasn’t picked him to be a straight-line battering ram. Like Chiefs, he sees potential in his pace and footwork to catch the Boks off balance.
“On certain moves and shapes you can look at Sam like that eighth back,” confirmed Hepher. “Over fast and hard grounds in South Africa he’s going to be quick and a handful.
“I’ll be hugely excited to see how he goes, but he’s got to attack it and get after that place in the starting XV.”
The British and Irish Lions will get to play in front of fans after all – but in Scotland not South Africa.
The Scottish government has ruled that 16,500 can fill a quarter of Murrayfield for the Lions’ warm-up clash with Japan on June 26.
But that has left more than 30,000 ticket holders disappointed after an initial ballot of 50,000 tickets sold out in the autumn.
Nonetheless Lions managing director Ben Calveley expressed delight that at least there will be some witnesses first hand to the 2021 Lions.
“I am sure it will give the entire touring party an enormous boost to play this fixture in front of Lions fans,” he said.
No decision has yet been taken on whether the fixture will be granted Test status – as the Lions’ last ‘home’ game against another tier one nation, Argentina, was in 2005.
Former All Black Kieran Crowley has replaced Franco Smith as coach of Italy, who finished last in the Six Nations and have not won a game in the tournament since 2015.