Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland’s Lost Lions Generation

John Barclay
Scotland captain John Barclay, warms up - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

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.

36 Responses

  1. It isn’t surprising the weight of pundit opinion has supported Gatland’s selections. In one way or another they have a vested interest in promoting the Lions brand either as fully paid up brand ambassadors, TV studio heads with expenses paid tours, or as former tourists with an emotional interest in soothing the stormy waters. You just have to look at the Irish reaction to BODs dropping in Australia to get an impression of their reaction if the shoe was in the other foot. More thoughtful commenters have remarked about the potential impact on the ethos of the Lions. But I think it is too late frankly – there is one more tour in the diary, the RFU wants it shortened to 8 games, the PRL have previously suggested future tours could be three tests only. The future of the lions is not certain. To continue the Lions needs all the support it can get and it has squandered a huge chunk of good will at the worst possible time.

    1. It’s the silence on or mealy-mouthed acceptance of the selection from some former Scotland greats and other rugby pundits and journalists that really sticks in my craw. No doubt as you say the roles they will have in reporting on and representing the 17 Lions are bound to make them think about the impact of what they say on their relationships with the tour management and squad. So to some extent the silences, and even the endorsements, are understandable. Nevertheless, my respect for them has plummeted because of this.
      An honourable mention therefore for Alan Massie in The Scotsman, who at least has publicly queried the presence of so many out of form or past it Wales players.
      It’s a funny old world when, apart from Massie, Mighty Mouse and Jim Telfer, just about the only dissident voices are those of ordinary Scotland supporters on this and other forums. Thank goodness we have the Scottish Rugby Blog to air our views.

      1. Could not agree more. Imagine the outrage from the national press is England Ireland Wales if so many of their star players were snubbed. The mentality we have is completely wrong, rather than being “thankful” we have two on the tour, we should be pushing for more representation!

      2. Worth listening to our interview with David Sole. He was hardly glowing about the lack of Scots selected nor Sam Warburton’s Lions credentials.

      3. Cammy, in the podcast interview I thought you did a good job of teasing out some telling first responses to the selection even though he had yet to write his Sunday Post column. I’ve read his piece online now and it was great to see how robustly he criticised, among other things, the bias and favouritism in the selection process and outcome. Good on you, Mr Sole!

  2. There is an argument for possibly 4 more Scots, but as you rightly pointed out, Gats knows more about picking a squad than me. I will always support the Lions, even I’d they have 23 from 1 country. I also believe that there will be a few more Scots on the next tour, as ther are many young Scots who just missed out this time.

  3. Excellent article. Particularly enjoyed the “up yours” bit. Pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole thing.

    Although you probably cut Gatland more slack than I would. He displays a complete disregard for Scottish players and completely failed to do proper due diligence on a number of them, despite having a full year to do it. I think that is completely unacceptable for a Lions coach. We keep being told to buy into the Lions ethos – why should we if the head coach and his team don’t?

    1. Dave, you’ve nailed exactly how I feel. Prior to the tour Gatland emphasised the importance of head-to-head’s and noted the importance of even the bottom team being engaged. Scotland do well and he ignores both points and focuses on excuses so open to the charge of inconsistency/hypocrisy that I’m actually embarrassed for him. Loyalty and respect are two way streets, something Brian Moore and his “true supporters” guff ignores.

      Indifference has set in for me already and the article gets why. Belonging. Why would I fork out my Now TV payments to watch a team I have no connection to?

  4. Stuff the lion’s.

    The last two have killed any enthusiasm I have for it.

    Gatland doesn’t rate the Scots.

    Let’s look at the 2013 tour, which if the Aussie hadn’t slipped Gatland would have lost.

    R Gray one test cap on the third test when the game was in the bag.

    R Grant kept the bench warm as a prop FFS.

    S Hogg no test caps. Oh and the run out at 10 in a cobbled together side.

    S Maitland no test caps.

    I don’t expect any Scot to get a test cap this time. Gatland is going to use them as fodder.

    I won’t be supporting the All Black’s, but I understand the sentiment, I won’t watch a match I will concentrate on the Scottish summer internationals.

    I will wait until the highlights to really enjoy watching the sans lube prison style treatment the All Black’s are going to give playing Warrenball against them.

    Gatland despises us, the look on his face this year at Murrayfield was priceless. I can only hope that Toonie uses it as motivation for when we go down there next year. I would love to see us royally do them at home.

    I just hope Hoggy or Seymour don’t come back like arrogant twats, something that afflicted Hoggy the last time. Toonie rightly put him in his place.

  5. We have been hard done by in terms of selection, but we aren’t the only ones. Zebo should be on the tour, hes milea ahead of both North and Halfpenny. Launchbury should tour aswell and I’d have him ahead of AWJ. The only nation that can’t moan about missing out on any players who ‘should’ have been selected are Wales who have won all of their own ’50/50′ calls and probably even a few ’40/60′ ones aswell. Warburton shouldn’t make the test squad on merit so therefore shouldn’t be captain, Halfpenny was the hero of the last tour but hasn’t got anything to offer other than a boot which at this moment isn’t as consistent as some others on the tour. Biggar was only holding onto the Welsh 10 jersey with his reputation. North was torn to shreds at Murrayfield and barely looked decent all tournament apart from the dead rubber game against Italy. Davies also shouldn’t be touring as Ringrose or Dunbar have shown better form in the 6N and over the last 12 months. It stinks of Welsh bias.

  6. Great post.

    All the best to hogg & seymour, but for me stuff the lions and gatland. C’mon scotland!

  7. As a fan I don’t want to see the Scottish boys playing Warrenball. Its not going to work against New Zealand and its not going to help our boys in the future, that’s not our natural game and its no fun to watch. Thinking that Hoggy and Seymour should treat it as a spying mission while the rest of the Scotland team work on Toony’s international plan over the summer.

    1. question , if for some freak reason gatland was to become ill or break somthing or just decide not to go , who would be the new coach ?

      and could their be an option if a new head coach was picked to pick a new squad ?

  8. Bollocks to the Lions and Gatland. He has been in the right place at the right time in a couple of jobs, handed strong sets of players while the Lions in 2013 beat a poor Aussie team that England and Ireland alone would likely have beat anyway. Remember the look of thunder on his face when we were humping Wales a few weeks go, said it all. So his palmares of titles doesn’t say much to me.

    Saracens toyed with Munster yesterday, Stander..O’Mahoney and co, and in Ireland too. Saracens pretty much dominate everyone with a full squad, yet we only hear about Glasgow’s loss to them as justification for marking down the players involved. That’s one example of the nonsense excuses/justification for leaving out Scots players.

    If Hogg and Tommy are left out the Test team i’d go from indifference to actively cheering on the all Blacks to stuff the Lions.

      1. Another way of looking at the Saracens performance is that the week before they put 8 tries past a Bath team that went on to have 3 of that team selected for the Lions.

  9. Absolutely gutted about the pathetic representation of Scots in the Lions squad. This is totally Welsh biased and that eminates not only from Gatland but also his lapdog, Howley. I am NZ based and was excited about the selection believing us to have a healthy chance of rep. with the likes of Hogg, Seymour, Grays, Watson, Strauss, Jones, Dunbar, Brown even Nel and Dickinson if recovered from injury. In retrospect this was was a triumph of hope over experience and Gats went for lots of his wife’s mate’s husband’s (Gwen is Welsh if you hadn’t guessed) they will all have a nice cozy time here in NZ for sure.
    I wish Hogg and Seymour all the best, however I fear they will be bench warming for the most part. So I for one will be rooting for the AB’s I am sorry to say. And of course not sporting any of the over priced merchandise. 3-0 my prediction to the All Blacks.

    1. You are in the best place to make a stink Alfie. The All Blacks want to face the best of the British Isles, it’s their cash that will be paying for it all.

  10. 4 lifelong friends & I “make a weekend” of the 2nd Lions test – we’ve been to Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh (twice), London & will be in Cardiff for this one.

    Since 1997 there has been an inextricable drift from fervent Lions followers to neutral observers (wholly due to the ever increasingly diluted Scottish influence) & I sadly concur with the sentiments above & elsewhere on this blog.

    In trying to justify the nepotistic selection (no individuals & poor away from home) Gatland has made a clown of himself.

    Did his obvious seething mood blind him to the 2nd half when his beloved Wales were put to the sword, the freedom of expression & flair Scotland played with was a joy to behold.

    Wales recent away record reads LLLLLWLL.

    Scott McCall puts it very succinctly in the post above, NZ will surely target Sexton from the 1st game.

    This squad has been lauded as the strongest ever to tour & it probably is physically but NZ will know this, I reckon 1 or 2 injuries away from real issues.

    Finally it will be very interesting to see who the injury call ups will be (8-9 is the expected number)

    1. Their poor away form has not been just over the last few games. Since the 2013 Lions trip, including RWC but not warm up games, they have lost 13 away games and won 5. The 5 were Italy (x2), us, France and the England RWC game. So really they’ve won 1 ‘big away game’ in 4 years!

    2. Well said John, and I absolutely relate to the same anguished disbelief.
      The drift from Lions fervour, through neutrality, towards unbelieving dissappointment and Lions antagonism, is the same road I followed.
      The unapologetic favouritism exhibited by the last few Lions coaches (Woodward and Gatland) is a sad indictment on how the whole Lions ethos has been suborned and undermined by their narrow self interest.
      My last word is on Shanklin. Who’d have thought that the Welsh regarded themselves as some form of rugby master race!
      I thought such notions of racial superiority had been discredited too many times to be aired in public.
      It’s such a shame that gods and the gene pool haven’t been kinder to the balding ginger pr**k.

  11. I just cannot bring myself to get excited about the Lions any more given Gatland’s obvious biased selection and you cannot help but think he is looking for a post Lions spike in form from his Welsh contingent following their exposure to training and playing alongside their English and Irish touring compatriots and his selection smacks of nothing but self interest!
    He is quoted this week when defending the lack of Scots in the squad as saying that “Scotland are a team of overachieving individuals” a team that were good enough to beat Ireland, the team that beat the 6N’s Champions and prevented them getting the Grand Slam, a team that comprehensively out played Wales in most positions whilst beating them at BT Murrayfield and a team that were good enough to hammer Italy who England only narrowly beat.
    Much has been made of the hammering dished out at Twickenham and hands up we were well beaten but I would suggest that Fraser Brown’s early yellow card was a major contributing factor during which we shipped enough points that we were then left chasing the game and had that not happened things may have been different, I’m not saying we would have won, but it may have been closer.
    Justification was also drawn from Glasgow Warriors defeat by Saracens at Allianz Park where it was suggested that the team that provides the largest contingent of the Scotland side cannot win away from home, a trait that then spills over into the National side. Again hands up we were well beaten on the day, I know I was one of the 5000+ travelling fans, but the national side only lost narrowly in Paris and nobody seems to remember that the Warriors journey to Allianz Park included them defeating Racing 92 home and away with an aggregate score of 46-21 and them beating Leicester home and away with an aggregate score of 85-13, 43 of which were scored at Welford Road without conceding a point!
    I am not suggesting Scotland deserve a massive contingent but, as was indicated in a previous comment, every alleged “close call” seems to have gone the way of Wales which smacks of nothing but parochialism and self interest. Biggar ahead of Russell, AWJ over Johnnie Gray, Tipuric over Hamish Watson all of these players were comprehensively outplayed in the head to head and I am struggling to see why they have made the cut.
    Maybe I have developed “Nelson’s Eye” but I don’t think my dose is as bad as the erstwhile Lions/Wales Coach!

    1. I think you’ve said exactly what I’ve been saying since the selection. One Scotland game and one Glasgow game where we were beaten by better sides (who on the day would have beaten almost any team) seem to have been used to justify some very unjust decisions against Scots. Won’t be getting excited about this tour as it unfolds now.

  12. We all know what the real selection mistake was. Gatland’s been the least impressive national coach of the 4 nations for the last couple of years, and his style of rugby just doesn’t bother New Zealand (he’s lost by an average of 35-14 in tests against the ABs, and he’s only got within a score of them once).

    But you can’t blame him for going with what he knows. He talked a bit about the chemistry of the squad, and he knows what he’s getting from that perspective with the Welsh players.

    In terms of specific Scots that missed out, I’m gutted that Dunbar seemed to get blamed for Huw Jones’s missed tackles against England, because he has a totally different dimension to his game compared with all the other eligible centres.

    Cole being selected winds me up. I’m all for scrummaging 3s, but if you do that little work around the park, your scrum has to be unbelievably dominant, and his just isn’t (Gordon Reid more than held his own for both Glasgow and Scotland against him). Fagerson was the hardest working tighthead in terms 0f carries, tackles, turnovers, everything outside of Furlong (the clear test starter).

    And then there’s Watson, my favourite player to watch right now. You can almost hear the tacklers’ internal monologue when he attacks (“He’s only small, I’ve got him, I’ve got him, oh wait, oh crap, oh craaaaaap…”), and the unknown quantity factor might just have posed NZ a different sort of challenge.

    But what you gonna do. I’m sure Savea and Read are waking up in a cold sweat about the thought of facing Sam Warburton again.

  13. I was going to say we will have had our summer rugby then ! However far from it.

    While the rest of the country will be looking forward to watching their favourites only to find the are watching Wales play the All Blacks, we will be on our own tour working on how we thrash Wales next 6 nations.

    I doubt I will ever change my opinion of Wales, always held them in low regard and consider they have cheated the other nations (not just Scotland) of a hefty pay cheque. No good will come of this.

    Let’s move on . Is our tour to be televised and on what station?

  14. Alan, I differ with you on 2 points:

    1) I think some of the pundits initially came out in support of the lack of scots
    2) Scottish Indifference has already arrived.

    I see no benefit in the Lions in the professional era from a British Perspective. So our indifference is not significant unless we are making a major contribution to cash generation.

    The Lions tour is a large cash generator for the southern hemisphere. The big talking point is that it takes 12 years for each SH Union to get a pay cheque from the lions and they need a much better cash flow than that.

    if we want to make a point, we need the SH to cry foul and not sure what the angle is right now.

  15. Besides ££, what is a lions tour for anyway?

    Transnational Harmony?

    If so should have somewhat equal representation

    Player enrichment/ development?

    If so there should be at least 2 spots for young guns from each nation alongside stars

    A “winning” feeling in times of need*?

    If so take most of the Wales team…

    * option 3 only applies if welsh or english

  16. Even Austin Healey in his Torygraph column last week referred to the dangers to the future of the Lions if the Scots are continually being excluded. He also said the most important Scottish omission was Townsend. The rest of the coaching team are just same old same old – who is going to argue against bish bash bosh out of that group ? Townsend is a very different coach.

    Healey, when he stops trying to be funny, which is very rare ( both stopping trying to be funny and actually being funny ), is turning into a very good analyst, much to my disgust :)

    1. I’ve had similar thoughts about Healy recently actually. While undoubtedly annoying and unfunny, he’s generally fair and unbiased in his observations. My personal hate when it comes to commentary or punditry is the constant parade of ex-players on the BBC coming on and trotting out inoffensive cliches so to not upset their mates who are still playing. Healy, for all his faults, doesn’t shy away from calling out players who need to improve and occasionally comes out with some astute analysis

  17. I definitely agree with the point about loss of affinity (or lack of affinity in the first place) with the Lions having a detrimental impact on its potential future survival. One of the other major inhibitors to that affinity though is the fact that the Lions remains a touring side that only plays one series every four years. I can’t speak for other posters, but my opinion is that the prospect of me ever actually going to a Lions match is virtually non-existent. Even if I could justify the outrageous price tag of a tour (you could do it cheaply for what, £10k?), the chance of me having sufficient leave to go on a Lions tour whilst retaining enough for my family commitments is unrealistic. This leaves me cold.

    Personally, I would like to see every fourth Lions ‘tour’ be at home. The Lions should play four test matches, one in each of the home unions, against whoever the top four non-home union ranking teams are at that time (currently NZ, Aus, France, SA), plus some top European club sides. This would certainly, in my opinion, help to keep fans closer to the concept or renew their interest and would also be a huge money spinner for the home unions. In my opinion you could whip up levels of interest akin to the London Olympics or a home football tournament.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Rory and Iain to look at the latest news including Scotland's win over Canada and the upcoming test against the USA.
Gregor Townsend has picked the strongest XV possible from his touring squad for the visit to Washington DC to play the USA, writes Rory.
Gregor Townsend has named his team to face Canada in the first match of the Skyscanner Americas Tour with 10 players given the opportunity to make their Scotland debut.
Craig is joined by Iain, Jonny and Rory to discuss Glasgow's momentous win in the final of the 2024 URC

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion