Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Gatland’s Selection Policies Leave the World Confused

Warren Gatland & Andy Irvine - pic courtesy InPhoto/Lions Rugby
Photo courtesy Rugby

I was going to write about what a confusing experience it was watching the second test with Al K and others last weekend and suddenly finding myself disenchanted with a Scot-free Lions team, with a coaching panel unwilling to trust a player we all know to be test quality. Most confusing of all was the thought that I would actually quite like the Wallabies to win. The Lions shouldn’t win a test series like that.

Luckily this week I haven’t had much time to put finger to keyboard, but there are some out there that have weighed in on the debate mostly as it revolves around Brian O’Driscoll’s non-selection and some even summed it up quite nicely I feel.

Steve Scott, Dundee Courier: Ripping the Thistle Off The Badge

A controversial bit in the Telegraph about “brazen insults“, and its own response.

In case you want further balance, here is Rucktales’ piece. They could be Welsh: Media drivel of national bias masking historic moment.

For a very good tactical analysis of the 2nd test check out our occasional sparring partner Demented Mole’ s bit.

For me, this one comes closest, over on Whiff of Cordite: The Internal Struggle.

(If you’re still stuck for reading, our old pal Alan Dymock has an 8 page expose on the scrum chaos blighting rugby in the latest issue of Rugby World magazine).

The only thing I would say is that there are quite a few out there feeling how we’ve been feeling for almost two months, and it is a shame it has come to BOD being dropped to bring it to light. There are some guys who comment here or on twitter who’ve been feeling like this for a lot longer. They want to love the Lions but as a distinct minority it can be hard sometimes.

Of course no-one is denying Gatland made a huge call, and you could argue his balls are massive for dropping the un-droppable. However you could argue that it is also a call borne of conservatism. He’s made so many “big calls” that no-one else has noticed till now that the aim has always been Gatlandball.

There is no plan B, no sudden resurgence of the spirit of 2009 lurking in this test team.

This is Gatland’s plan, and his reputation will live or die by it.


16 Responses

  1. Such a load of bollocks, Scotland’s consistently poor lions representation is down to them being consistently poor for ten years. Its not the lions that have become irrelevant its Scotland. Come down to Cardiff and the Welsh will beat you again as we have for the last 10 out of 11 games

    1. A team playing poorly does not necessarily mean there are no good players in it. Are you forgetting how utter dross Wales were in the late eighties and early nineties, and yet no-one ever said “ALL Welsh players are guff”, which you are saying about Scotland. Oh, and when was the last time Wales beat NZ? Does that mean you are irrelevant to NZ? The current triumphalist boasting of Welsh rugby is not becoming. Go and learn what being magnanimous means……

  2. As a Scot, I’ve found it difficult to engage with this or the last few Lions tours. Our lack of representation or contribution to the Lions has been deflating and embarrassing… but deserved. A glance over the Six Nations table for the past 10 odd years tells you the level Scottish players have been performing. I agree that Ryan Grant’s situation last week was strange but is a side issue to the fact that Scottish players are still not performing to the level of their Irish, Welsh and English counterparts. Lets not be ‘chippy jocks’

  3. Well Rory, you managed to create a whole blog post based on all the hyperbolic criticism of Gatland’s team for the third test. Now that it has proved to be a good selection that achieved the desired result admirably – will you at least publically admit you were wrong?
    I do understand that it is hard for Scottish rugby fans to really buy into the Lions concept when so few Scottish players are selected but on the other hand I don’t see any real solution. The reason that there were few Scots on the tour is the simple fact that there are very few Scottish internationals that are stand-out players in their position. Scotland have consistently been the least successful of the 4 home nations over the years in the 6 nations. I agree that just because the national team isn’t strong doesn’t automatically mean that individual players cannot be of a high standard – but generally the Scottish players are not superstars.
    I think there is a lack of realism in some of the complaints of the Scottish rugby supporters. Take the example of Stuart Hogg. He is certainly a talented young player but some of the hype written about him is just romanticized nonsense. He is competing for the number 15 shirt with Leigh Halfpenny. Are there any Scots fans out there now who STILL feel he should have been selected at 15 ahead of HP? Really? So if he wasn’t going to get the starting 15 shirt he was only in consideration as bench cover for a range of positions including No. 10. He was given a couple of run outs at 10 in the midweek games and while it was not a total disaster – he did not look very impressive.
    Likewise with Maitland….. A decent all-rounder but would you pick him for the starting team ahead of North and Bowe? Er, No.
    Grant and Gray I’d say were a touch unlucky not to get more time at least from the bench but they were just on the wrong side of some 50/50 selection calls. You can’t say that either of them were clearly the best players available in their respective positions? I do think the if Grant had started the last test as part of that monster front row with Hibbard and Adam Jones he would have done just fine but in the event Alex Corisiero had the game of his life so it is hard to say that Grant should definitely have started instead of him?
    So, I don’t feel that there has been any secret agenda to discriminate against the Scottish players. Gatland is just a hard-nosed pragmatist who like to win (an isn’t that what competitive sport is supposed to be about?) I don’t feel that the Lions should be reduced to tokenism of quotas where any starting 15 has to include roughly equal numbers of player from each of the 4 countries even if better player are available? That would be ridiculous.

    1. You make a reasonable argument. However, I would disagree with you re Maitland who, having watched a lot of Glagow rugby this year, I would certainly pick ahead of Bowe and Cuthbert. He is a victim of not being known personally to Gatland via Ireland or Wales but on pure ability, knocks the pair of them into a cocked hat.

      As for the others, yes, Gray didnt play amazingly and would have struggled to oust O’Connell and Wyn-Jones even on top form, Hogg is too raw, I agree, but Ryan Grant was treated appallingly in that second test. Only the most blinkered spectator could argue Vunipola was the correct choice.

      What really rankles is the failure to select Grant in the first place and the failure to call up Matt Scott in favour of Twelvetrees and Barritt. Matt Stephens was a shocking selection that seems to have sneaked under the radar of any critics but he was dire and should never have gone.

      A top form Dave Denton would have been a good pick but his form was shocking. However, Dan Lydiate had no form either having been injured and he managed to get selected, same goes for Gethin Jenkins, Tom Croft and Tommy Bowe. If a coach has faith in a players ability, he will pick him regardless of form it seems. Therefore, we can only assume Gatland thinks our players have no ability, which is a nonsense!

      I hope that our best players do indeed get a fair crack of the whip next time round i.e. coaches actually bothering to see them play (Rowntree you knob!) because Denton, Scott, Bennett, Hogg, Maitland, Gray, Grant, Welsh to name but a few all deserve a fair hearing in 2017.

  4. Well, I for one am happy to admit that I was wrong, on the basis of predicting (pre-series) a 2-1 winning margin for the Wallabies. Do I think that Gatland was lucky to get that result? Yes, I do (vis Kurtley Beale’s slip), and no, that comment doesn’t make me a chippy Jock. I don’t imagine that Gatland had anything in mind from but winning in his selections, but I’m sick to the back teeth of being told that I must support the Lions come what may – simply not true, why would I support a team in which I have little (if any) representation? So, it was neutral for me, and I make no apology for that whatsoever.

    Lionsfan, you make some interesting comments, many of which are spot on, but equally many of which come with the benefit of hindsight: “Are there any Scots fans out there now who STILL feel he should have been selected at 15 ahead of HP? Really? So if he wasn’t going to get the starting 15 shirt he was only in consideration as bench cover for a range of positions including No. 10″ or ” I do think the if Grant had started the last test as part of that monster front row with Hibbard and Adam Jones he would have done just fine but in the event Alex Corbisiero had the game of his life so it is hard to say that Grant should definitely have started instead of him?”. I certainly believed that when the tour started Hogg offered more in attack than 1/2p, and based on what we’d see for club and country from the two respective players over the last couple of seasons, that’s not an unreasonable thing to have said – that 1/2p went on to show us that not only was he a superb goal-kicker and an excellent defender (including his positioning), but that he could also run some cracking lines with ball in hand, well that last bit was something of a revelation for me (and I imagine for many) – his MotTournament award was thoroughly deserved, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Hoggy could justifiably have had more opportunities at his chosen 15 position if Gatland had originally taken a 3rd flyhalf. Equally, Grant could rightly feel aggrieved at his sojourn on the bench in the second test – Vunipola did well to recover in the scrums, but could easily have been yanked after 20 minutes (if Poite had been reffing, he might even have seen yellow), and then the young Englishman was out on his feet for the last 5-10 minutes such had been his efforts earlier – I still don’t understand why Grant did not feature, and again, that doesn’t make me a chippy Scot.

    I’m certainly not for equal representation in test squads, but the Lions for me is about representation from the 4 Home Nations, and a game plan that transcends that of the contributing nations – I wasn’t a fan of Gatlandball before the Lions departed, and I’m no more a fan now having watched it from a neutral, disinterested standpoint (instead of often being on the wrong end of it in Wales vs Scotland matches). It felt to me that Gatland pretty much knew his test twenty three prior to boarding the plane, and several players benefited from that (including Richie Gray, in that he had missed a recent chunk of the season with injury) – that a number went on to show their worth doesn’t make them not a little lucky, and players that missed out like Kelly Brown not a little unlucky. So Cadwyn, Scotland are not irrelevant, but I will continue to reserve the right to chose which teams I support and when – thanks very much

  5. While obviously disappointed, I have no difficulty accepting the reasons for why the Scot’s players werent in the Lions starting XV – namely that there were better players in their respective positions or players that better suited the style of rugby Gatland wanted to play.

    What I think these players (and those ultimately not picked for the squad) suffer from is a perception that Scottish rugby is weak. I for one would like us to focus on the cause rather than the symptom. Scottish rugby needs more depth and – if we are not having a third team – i would advocate having Edinburgh/Glasgow 2xv or a Scottish under 20s playing regularly in the Scottish Premier Division. Cost effective step forward. How can we convince the SRU?

    1. Great idea Euan and I agree that Scottish players are suffering from the reverse Halo-effect that many players from more successful teams enjoy.

      I think the final test vindicated most of Gatland’s selections but not really those that affected Scottish players.

      Grant – Vunipola was a total liability in the scrum both when he came on in the first test, the replacement front row almost lost us the match, and the second test, where the failure of the set pieces did cost us the game. Grant should have replaced him in the second test and should have been on the bench for the last test in case it was a close game.

      Gray – Parling started because he works hard in training and is the line-out caller. Lineout totally collapses in second test and Parling admits to the press his call for last-minute lineout in Aussie ’22 whilst 1-point behind was ‘shit’. Kept in because he tackles (shouldn’t all locks have high tackle counts because they stand close to the rucks?) which is something Gray also did in all his appearances. Why lightweight Parling wasn’t replaced by Gray who tackles, carries, covers and hits rucks is beyond me. The pack did well in the second test – it wasn’t because Parling had a stormer even if he did have a nice tap-tackle.

      Hogg – Never going to start but had the versatility and ability to be a game-breaker from the bench. Not given much of a chance to find his feet but as the form XV and one of the brightest talents in Europe was treated pretty shabbily.

      Maitland – quality player and again never going to start unless injuries had hit. Clear that in many cases Gatland knew who he wanted to play regardless of form on tour. Some worked – Bowe did OK, Croft less so, Lydiate did very well. However, it is legitimate to question whether many of the players ever had a chance to force their way into the test team, partly because of the shortness of the tour.

      It was also clear that some players did not earn their right to be there at all. Stevens? Wade? Twelvetrees? What had they done to earn their call-ups?

      However, the truth is that these gripes will always exist from one country or another. The only way Scottish players can change this is to start smashing their rivals on the field. We have plenty of young talent and a world cup to make an impression in.

    2. It was also clear that some players did not earn their right to be there at all. Stevens? Wade? Twelvetrees? What had they done to earn their call-ups?

      The english had played their summer games, the welsh were all on tour, we were down to our bare bones by that point and the irish weren’t thought much better of?….or GAtland was thinking of 4years time ;-)..with wade…

    3. Coully – the Lions is prestigious and a huge honour for players and these were cheap, cheap jerseys to hand out.

      And Stevens’ selection was a bloody travesty.

    4. oh aye, I agree, I was only making a stab at the logic Gatland used to pick the lads he did.

  6. I concur with the previous statements, I think Hogg will come back a better player/or at least can only become a better player for the experience, Gray too perhaps. Not being chippy but I know plenty of lads of various nationalities that were bewildered by the Vunipola saga in the 2nd test, but lamentably,…it’s done now, perhaps Grant can get a measure of vindication by stuffing some of the other front rows in next years 6N or HC.

  7. Was Gatland really vindicated by this result? Phillips was dire, Jiffy2 anonymous. For the large majority of the game the Lions were their regular un-inventive and boring selves.

    Plus, without Beale’s slip, the Lions would have been 0-2 going into this game.

  8. I was delighted to find your blog and read up on views regarding both Scottish rugby and the Lions tour. As a Scot living in New Zealand I’d like to offer some perspective from the Southern Hemisphere. One thing is that there was very little interest in tour here in NZ and I believe that in a short time we’ll see why when the AB’s hammer the Aussies in the Bledisloe cup and show that it’s wasn’t a good Lions team but an extremely poor Aussie one that determined the outcome of the series. Lions selection is a bit of a joke when the abilities of players in each position is debatable on who is the ‘best’. I’d love to see a true Lions squad where each home nation had representatives, three or four of each nation in the test team to make it truly representative, I think the results of matches wouldn’t differ as long as you have an ace kicker in the side as the last 2 winning tours had. I hope to be in NZ when the Lions return and only hope there won’t be a repeat of the embarrassment of 2005 – I’m not holding my breath on that though!

    1. I think the Lions are perhaps only big news in the country they are in, and here of course. In NZ I sometimes got the sense that they weren’t that fussed on what was going on outside NZ, rugbywise. Gatland’s plans worked against the Aussies and fair play to him but the only way the Lions can even hope to get near the ABs is by playing some variation on Geechball, not Gatlandball…

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion