Some friends and I recently wrote a book about expeditions. One of my favourite entries is about Voyagers I and II, unmanned spacecraft sent into the farthest reaches of our solar system. Over the years these humble satellites have relayed crucial data about our Galaxy including stunning images of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus (no, you’re sniggering).
In 2012, around about the same time as Josh Strauss was signing for Glasgow Warriors, Voyager I left our solar system and began the transition into interstellar space. NASA has refused to confirm whether the two incidents were related but there is the intriguing possibility Voyager I could send back some information from beyond our Galaxy.
What cosmic secrets could it unearth? What intergalactic wonders are waiting to be discovered?
My money’s on it finding one of Standard Life’s British & Irish Lions billboards on an asteroid.
Or perhaps a supernova with a hoarding that has a 2-for-1 offer for Mud House, the official Lions wine partner. Or maybe a floating plasma screen, showing George North having a shave, with Jim Telfer’s oddly un-profane voiceover booming out into the infinite abyss.
You can’t move for Lions stuff. Which makes life pretty awkward at the moment if you’re a Scottish rugby fan.
It will come as news to nobody who’s reading this that there are only two Scots in the playing squad for #LionsNZ2017.
Most of you will also know that there is no Scottish involvement in the coaching team after both Gregor Townsend and Jason O’Halloran turned down a tempting offer to hold bibs for Rob Howley. None of the senior blazerati are Scottish either. Even our ‘banker’ for the tour, the legend that is Doctor James Robson – a veteran of every tour since 1993, is sitting this one out. God forbid, but if anything should happen to Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour before the party departs, the only Scots travelling to New Zealand will be our contingent of fans.
Ah, the fans. It’s fair to say there’s a feeling among supporters of Scottish rugby that two representatives in a playing party of 41 is a touch on the shy side. An encouraging Six Nations was ruined by the mother of all hidings at Twickenham which probably did for the hopes of several Scottish hopefuls.
Scottish rugby fans reacted to the selection with varying degrees of anguish on social media and there were two main themes to the ensuing discourse. There were responses from fans of other countries, who trotted out the usual blethers about ‘four becoming one’ and pulling together behind the jersey and how Scotland still had a distance to travel in terms of credibility.
To these people I would simply say, “Up Yours”.
In one form or another every supporter gets a bit parochial about Lions selection. If you can’t acknowledge that, you are lying to yourself. Scottish fans haven’t seen ‘our’ boys play a significant role on a tour for 20 years. It’s a rotten feeling to be virtually excluded for so long from something you used to love being part of.
Don’t preach at us until you know what that feels like.
The second source of wisdom was the rugby establishment – press, pundits and ex-pros – patiently explaining why Gatland was right, why Scottish players weren’t hard done by and how the lack of Scots in the New Zealand party is perfectly understandable if you look at the bigger picture.
Unfortunately I fear the experts and the Scottish fans are looking at a different bigger picture.
I’m willing to entertain the possibility that Warren Gatland – a coach who’s claimed three English titles, a Heineken Cup, two Grand Slams and won a Lions test series – knows more about picking winning rugby squads than me. And so long as they’re eligible, why should Gatland care which nation a player represents? He’s got enough on his plate grappling with how to beat the best test side in the world; a murderous schedule and the fact that several of his key players won’t join up until the tour’s already started due to club commitments. Getting angry at Gatland is missing the point by some distance.
A big part, perhaps the biggest part, of being a fan is feeling a sense of belonging to your team and what they represent. Or maybe the biggest part is winning stuff, it probably depends who you ask.
But the belonging thing is certainly in the top two.
It’s difficult for Scotland supporters to feel part of this Lions tour – and believe me lots of us really, really want to – because they don’t represent us and haven’t for a long time now. A controversial selection here or there is one thing; being on the margins for a whole generation is another.
At this moment the lack of Scottish Lions is attracting a fair amount of Scottish heat. There’s a very real danger that it will soon cool into Scottish indifference.
For the future of the Lions, and their intergalactic marketing machine, I know which is worse.