Yesterday saw the announcement of a Lions test 22 shorn of any Scottish representation. For some Scottish fans that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – no Scots equals no support was one post I saw out there in the wonderful world of the blogoshpere. Some argued over on the 606 boards that if it came down to a 50-50 call between Donnacha and Nathan on the bench, the call should have gone for the Scot to ensure all four countries are represented to “get the Scots on board”.
You want to say not having Scots in there will harm tour morale if they feel left out. But this takes you dangerously close to quota systems like they have in South Africa, and while the Africans are trying to heal a nation divided for so long and promote integration in sport (whether it works or not is another story), what would be achieved by arbitrarily parachuting a Scot in to a Lions team? That would damage tour morale, with professional players uncertain that their position has been chosen on form not politics (however trivial a brand of politics it might be) and that goes against the central ethos of what the Lions is about.
It is about taking a bunch of players from five countries, and essentially removing national identity and replacing it with a new country, The United Nation of Lion. They must come together as one team, a squad with no fixed national identity save for the red shirt, white shorts and blue and green socks that they wear. If they do not, if the squad splits along national lines, then they fail. Ian Macgeechan knows this, and that is why the Scot has picked this team, because it is the team he feels can win and give us something that all of us can be proud of. We are all sure Nathan should have been on the bench and hoped Murray would have been before the ankle injury that ended his tour. But we must trust Geech has a plan. Perhaps Nathan has a slight ankle injury we don’t know about that added to the factors in Donnacha’s favour.
Sure, you can bet that if there were no Welshmen involved in a Lions test team, the leek-munchers would be rioting in the streets of Pontypool but this perhaps is down to something in our character, an acceptance of defeat and willingness to be plucky losers rather than to fight our corner and dominate.
Which is strange as Scottish soldiers dominated half the world for long enough. It is the factor noticeably absent from the play on tour of both Mike Blair and Ross Ford, who are “nice guys” and who undoubtedly have the skills to have been in the test 22. Perhaps if Andy Robinson can instill some of that fire, that killer instinct in our national team, we can look forward to a Lions tour where Scots are prominent in the team, and there on merit.
We cheer the players because (for the most part) they hail from the same shores we do, but they amongst themselves must reject petty nationalism and try and achieve something truly difficult, one of sport’s truly quixotic endeavours. To put a bunch of guys together and say, “go half way (or the whole way) around the world and play the best team in the world. And do it in a couple of months.” It must be easier to bring together a national squad, who all want to play for their country – issues of nationality are almost a shorthand to building a team, they give the players something in common. For the Lions that shorthand is not there, instead they only have history, and a willingness to play for each other that has to be built almost from scratch.
Why do they do it? Because it is there to be done, like climbing Everest (which Jim Telfer compared it to), going to the moon or breaking a world record. It is the sort of things that even in the age of Coca Cola Stadiums and 60 million dollar transfer fees, human beings still take on for little reason other than “it’s worth a bash”, to test themselves against the truly great.
And seeing someone try and do that is worthy of anyone’s support, surely?