It has been 20 years since a Scotsman last started a Test match for the British & Irish Lions, but the nation’s upturn in fortunes could see the wait come to an end.
With the Lions taking on South Africa this summer, there are eight Scots on the plane, and opportunities for Test starts in the offing.
Scots Earn Fair Representation
Only two Scotland players made it in the initial squad for the Lions tour of New Zealand four years ago, with Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour getting the nod. Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Allan Dell were later called up. Warren Gatland, who will lead the Lions again in South Africa, was the coach, and some believed the Scots were hard done by in their representation. Scotland had beaten both Wales and Ireland in the 2017 Six Nations, but it was a heavy defeat away to England that scuppered the chances of many players for the tour.
Under head coach Gregor Townsend, the Scots have come on leaps and bounds this year, and managed to secure rare wins away in England and France in the 2021 Six Nations. That caught the eye of Gatland, who has valued away performances and wins above much else. With Scottish representation also on the coaching team in the form of Townsend and Steve Tandy, the men in blue have made up a respectable share of the initial 37-man touring squad, who are 8/11 in the rugby union betting to win the series against the Springboks. However, everything is still possible as bookmakers have the Springboks at 6/5.
Starting Jerseys up for Grabs
With Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe and Ali Price called up in the backs, and Hamish Watson, Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in the forwards, there is plenty of potential for Test starts. The Scots will not be content with just making the tour, and settle for playing against the provincial sides in the midweek games. It’s all about taking on the reigning world champions South Africa in their own backyard.
Some players will have their work cut out for them to make a Test start, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be involved against the Boks. The likes of centre Chris Harris and scrum-half Ali Price in the backline will have chances to impress in the provincial games, but they have players with previous Lions experience ahead of them in the pecking order.
Meanwhile, many will be hoping Hogg finally gets a chance to start in the No.15 jersey, after seeing his Lions tour cut short in 2017 due to injury. The Scotland captain was a standout performer in the Six Nations this year, and appears to be most people’s choices for a start at full-back.
Some are also calling for Finn Russell to be given a chance in the all-important fly-half position. The Scottish playmaker is seen as somewhat of a maverick on the field, but he’s capable of creative brilliance that fellow stand-offs Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell are not. In the pack, Hamish Watson looks to be in the mix for a Test start, having been named Six Nations player of the tournament this year. The powerful flanker gets through plenty of work, and is capable of barnstorming runs that should keep the Springboks on their toes.
It’s certainly positive signs for Scotland supporters that might have felt disenfranchised with the Lions in recent tours, and now Scotsmen could be the next in line to start a Test and follow in the great Tom Smith’s footsteps from 20 years ago.
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