British and Irish Lions: Chance Would be a Fine Thing

The British and Irish Lions have confirmed that their 2021 tour of South Africa will go ahead as planned. Whilst the news has been met with joy in England, Wales and Ireland, the atmosphere in Scotland is somewhat more sombre. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Scottish rugby fans have become disillusioned with the Lions in recent years, particularly under the stewardship of Warren Gatland.

Gatland, who returns as coach next year, has only selected five Scottish players into his two original squads, with a further four players joining as injury/withdrawal replacements. Of the 44 players he has handed Test caps to, Richie Gray was the only Scot, and he only played for 13 minutes.

It is understandable why so few Scottish players were included in the 2013 tour, but in the run up to the 2017 tour, Scotland had beaten Gatland’s Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations, almost made the semi final of the World Cup two years prior and went on to beat Australia in Sydney. Yet Gatland picked fewer Scots in his original squad than in 2013.

All things considered, there may be pressure on Gatland to increase support in Scotland for the Lions brand, which has been struggling to find its place in the professional game and could be under further threat if a global rugby calendar is adopted. The simplest way to do this: pick more Scottish players.

With that in mind, here are my favourites to tour with the Lions next year and their chance of touring.

Dead Certs

Stuart Hogg

The only way Hogg will not be picked is if he is injured. On recent form he is the best Full Back option at Gatland’s disposal. Moving swiftly along.

Hamish Watson

Gatland picked eight Back Row players in his original 2017 squad. Whilst this is an area of immense depth, Watson is probably the second best Openside after Justin Tipuric. James Haskell and Mike Tindall selected him in their Test team on House of Rugby, showing how highly thought of he is.

High Chance

Rory Sutherland

Sutherland was the form Loosehead from the Six Nations. If I were picking the squad today I have no doubts that he would go. However, we are a year out and Sutherland has had his problems with injury. His chance rests on keeping his form high and injuries at bay.

Stuart McInally/Fraser Brown

I have had to group these two together as they so often are for Scotland. Gatland picked three Hookers in his original 2017 squad. I believe Jamie George and Ken Owens are already on the plane.

This leaves one space free. The Irish Hookers are too young and inexperienced for me so I think it will be a shootout between these two but at least one of them is very likely to go.

50/50s

Finn Russell

It pains me to give Finn such a low chance. Maybe I am being too cynical but I think Gatland will stick with the three Fly Halfs from 2017. Farrell and Sexton are highly likely to go and Gatland knows Biggar inside out. Russell’s falling out with Townsend won’t help much either.

Leaving Russell at home could be the final nail in the coffin for the Lions in Scotland so perhaps this may swing the balance in his favour.

Darcy Graham

The Prince of Hawick could easily join the King if he rebounds from his injury troubles and finds top form. Gatland took seven Back Three players in 2017. Three outright Wingers, one outright Full Back and Three players who can cover all three positions. Graham’s time covering Full Back for Edinburgh may give him the edge over players like Stockdale or Nowell should he hit top form.

Zander Fagerson

Tadgh Furlong and Kyle Sinckler are certainties to tour. This leaves one space open at Tighthead. Fagerson was quality during the Six Nations with the Scottish scrum actually matching up to the opposition. If Fagerson can keep this up he has every chance.

Outside Bets

Jonny Gray

Gray Jr. has been an excellent servant for Scotland over recent years, always putting a shift in in defence. However, Second Row is the Lions strongest area and his lack of edge in attack may not be enough to see him on the plane. Playing in Exeter could change this so watch this space.

Ali Price

Three scrum-halves were originally taken in 2017. Two places are likely to be filled by Tomos Williams and Connor Murray. Price has a fight on his hands with Gareth Davies, Ben Youngs and John Cooney but he has a chance to sneak in.

Jamie Ritchie

Unfortunately for Ritchie, who is an exceptional talent with an aggressive edge suited to playing the Springboks, the back row may just have to much depth. His inexperience at the top level will likely count against him and he may have to bide his time till 2025.

Dark Horses

Sam Johnson

With Hadleigh Parkes leaving Wales for Japan, there are few specialist Inside Centres to pick from. With Owen Farrell likely to be deployed at 10, only Bundee Aki remains as a specialist 12. Sam Johnson could find his way on to the tour if he hits form.

Duhan van der Merwe

Who better to take on a team of huge, hulking South Africans than your very own huge, hulking South African. Duhan has been immense for Edinburgh over the past three seasons and if he carries that form into a Scotland shirt, he has the potential to be a Test starter.

Who do you think would, should or could make the tour when 2021 rolls around?

33 comments on “British and Irish Lions: Chance Would be a Fine Thing

  1. Eli Walker on

    Is that 4 or 5 games our prestigious lions coach has lost in a row against Southern Hemisphere opposition now ?

    • Bass Rock on

      Eli: You are dead right and it is quite scary to think about that, the Lions are in bother but that is not scary, this is what is Scary. In 12 years as the Wales coach , Gatland coached them to beat Scotland 11 times out of 11. It is shocking to think that a coach with a 100% win record over Scotland, cannot get a win for a NZ pro side!

  2. FF on

    Finn Russell could go in place of Sexton. Think the latter is struggling to maintain his best form at the end of his career so it depends on his 2021 6N.

    I’d love to see a Finn Russell and Owen Farrell combo at 10/12.

    Think Watson is far from dead cert just due to number of options in back row, which is probably wrong but there you go.

    Also doubt Graham is as high as 50/50. May, Williams, Hogg, Watson and Daly all nailed on. Josh Adams v likely, Nowell decent chance, Stockdale needs a good season but good chance, Cokansinga dark horse, Larmour similar chance to Graham, for me both outside bets. Darcy has a lot of work to do to get ahead of some of those names (I think he has the potential to but he is nowhere near a 50/50 call).

    • FF on

      Also I think Gatland will find a place for Gareth anscombe which could push Finn out even if Sexton doesn’t make it.

  3. Scrummo on

    As much as I love Watson i think he will have his work cut out to get on the plane.

    I suspect Gstland will want a big hulking 6 like Lawes (maybe an on form Skinner enters that conversation too…) so the competition for 7 could be:

    Underhill, Curry, Tipuric, Van der Flier, Watson, Ritchie.

    Given Watson is an out and out 7 whereas some of the other can play 6 I don’t fancy his chances if I’m honest and to be fair the alternatives are all superb players in their own right.

    If Gatland wants a more mobile backrow with Underhill and/or Curry options at 6 his chances may improve.

    Not saying it’s right or my choice but could understand if he didn’t go.

    • Scrummo on

      Forgot to add, I’ll be far more aggrieved if there isn’t a full Scottish front row on the plane if our current options stay fit and on form!

  4. Eli Walker on

    I suspect it will be just Hogg who will go and 1/2 other token scots. Hogg will get an ‘injury’ before the test games. No test minutes or a Ryan Grant will happen.

  5. De Pfeffel on

    Would be class if a few players just pied the Lions off. Unlikely, given the sums involved for both player and SRU, but funny nevertheless.

  6. john on

    Alas Hogg is the only certainty.
    There are 6 or 7 other Scottish possibilities but……
    Graham – too early for him, no way Gatland takes him
    Johnson – a maybe given Parkes’s departure, Anscombe likely to be preferred
    Watson/Ritchie – up against good opposition & the likelihood is that Gatland will go with what he knows – Navidi, Wainwright, Moriarty.
    The Grays – Not much game time to force their respective claims
    Front row – Sutherland & Fagerson should go but will they.
    The Lions used to be my personal sporting highlight – lack of Scottish participation has killed that.

  7. Scotty on

    The whole “Scotland have fallen out of love with the Lions because Gatland is anti-Scottish” is becoming an embarrassment.

    As a Scotland and Lions fan, of course I’d love to see the Lions beat SA with a team stacked full of Scots but the reality is most of our players are just not good enough. You could argue all day with your navy blue tinted specs on that Watson is better than Tipuric or Hogg is better than Williams or Sutherland is the best loosehead in the world but until these lads get experience of winning away from home/winning a 6 nations/making a serious run at a World Cup/win club trophies/routinely beating tier 2 sides then why on earth should we make up 25% of the squad?

    We now only have the 6 nations 2021 to prove ourselves and unless we win 3 or 4 games (including a scalp away from home) I doubt we’ll see an improvement of 3 players.

    • Eli Walker on

      Why are you basing an individuals merit of making the squad based on how there teammates perform ?

      Lets take Sergio Parisse back in his prime and imagine for a second that Italy were part of the lions.
      Are you really suggesting we should not pick a player like that because he is in a losing team ?

      It just seems mental to me that you (and others) think every player in a losing team is a losing player.

      Pick each player based on their individual merit i say.

      • Scotty on

        I completely agree which is why Hogg will still go plus one or two others but when it comes to selection calls that are tight (many of them will be) is Gatland going to pick someone who has played multiple crunch games/finals or someone who’s played none? If Scotland had 6/7/8 players who should be in the test squad (as many Scotland fan writes) then surely we wouldn’t have lost so many matches?

      • TeamCam on

        I think the issue is that people underestimate the effect coaching has. Just look at Wales pre- and post-Gatland. Look at England in 2015 then in 2016; from being the first team to be knocked out of their own world cup to undefeated and 6N grand slam champions, with largely the same players. Look at the poor teams from whom Jones draws a number of his players – Quins, Tigers etc. – but he and his team get the goods from them. Look at how Chiefs are faring under Gatland this year.

        Rugby is a complicated game.

        Gatland will go with the players he and his coaching team know. That doesn’t mean that those players are inherently better than the players he doesn’t select.

        Furthermore, you could make up a squad for the Lions with any of the other countries swapping places with Scotland (i.e. getting token representation), and still have four very strong squads. It’s what you do with those squads that counts. The strategy, the game plan, the tactics, the training, the nutrition, the recovery, the psychology, the bonding…

        Ignoring what I’ve written above, I’d really like to see someone like Kevin Millar do a stat-based analysis of the contenders and select a squad based on that. Of course the stats that we have are easily affected by gameplan, but at least it’d be a different take and we’d be starting from an objective analysis.

      • FF on

        Teamcam – coaching is important.

        We also still have the weakest squad in the 6N bar Italy.

        We have half a dozen players who will be marginal calls and for them to go our way we need to be winning games and making the case.

        Gatland has been explicit that Scotland’s collapse at Twickenham and the performance of some individuals in that calamity cost them selection.

      • TeamCam on

        Our 6N squad wasn’t much, if any, weaker than Wales’ or Ireland’s. Hell, was it weaker than France’s youngsters, whom we beat comfortably?

        Gatland’s been explicit many times. Before that match it was ‘the team who finishes last can expect 5-6 players’. What he says is irrelevant.

        I’d like to see you support your claim that we have 6 players who are margin calls, rather than just blithely assert it as fact.

  8. Not rocket science on

    What Gatland doesn’t understand is the Lions concept. It is not about having the best XV on the pitch. It is about picking a team of players from each of the nations, so everyone gets behind it together. That is the whole point. That is why he is a loathed scumbag in Scotland and Ireland, no matter his track record. Similar point to when he passed on BOD. It’s like picking a Barbarians side, ditching dinner and drinks and telling them to kick for territory and points.

    • TeamCam on

      His Barbarians side wasn’t great to watch, either. I wonder if we’d feel different if another country was getting the shaft. I think I would, but how much of that is because I know how it feels to be the shaftee…?

  9. john on

    Eloquently put Not rocket science, the British & Irish Lions was a celebration of the relative strengths/peculiarities of each home nation & how they came together to gel as one team, one country………….& Ireland.

    To isolate Scotland (& Ireland as you say) is quite an achievement. Sir Clive managed just that thing (& much more negativity in NZ 2005).

    I see what Scotty is saying but he is wrong. The feelings of hurt are there (and prevalent) for a very good reason.
    4 years ago (next Saturday) on our 4 yearly boys trip I was sitting in a Cardiff bar as a neutral – just hoping (& subsequently getting) for a great game of rugby not bothering who won.

    Looking ahead a year, Russell should be starting @ 10, you don’t beat South Africa with physicality alone, Russell (with Farrell & Davies inside him) will scare SA (maybe that’s the thing, the unknown x factor that Gatland doesn’t like)

    • Scotty on

      I think we’ll need to agree to disagree here. For me to force the selectors to have 3.75 players from each nations starting each test is akin to a school team being up at half time then going on to lose the match because the coach had to sub on all the rubbish players so everyone got the same game time.

      Imagine England had beaten South Africa in the final and then the Lions went on to lose the series because Gatland was forced to pick a quota (and subsequently a worse team) from each nation. It would completely demerit the whole concept of the Lions and turn it into a primary school sports day.

      This is professional sport and being a Lion is the pinnacle for any British and Irish player. They should be there on merit and merit alone, not to fill a quota because the coach is afraid he’ll hurt some fans feelings.

      I can guarantee if Wales were propping up the other home nations in the 6 nations table and losing to tier 2 sides on an annual basis no one here would be calling for more Welsh representation in the Lions.

      • Eli Walker on

        Merit and Merit alone ? So not picking Welsh players because of familiarity then, or because a coaching staff knows them, or because they play in a bad team.

      • SlowWalk90 on

        You’re contradicting your own argument here Scotty. To use your school team analogy, what you’re suggesting is that nobody should complain about any of the talented kids in the first half not getting picked for a select side because their team lost the game.

        It doesn’t make any sense. Players should be picked on merit not based upon where the team with the shirt they wear finished up in the table.

        In the last Lions selection neither of these things actually mattered, it came down to whoever Gatland was most familiar/friendly with. I suspect it will be even more the case this time around as he probably won’t even bother to do much scouting of Scottish players form while he’s tied up trying to figure out how to win a match on the other side of the world.

      • Scotty on

        I accept that it was a bit contradictory though it was meant as two separate arguments.

        All I am trying to convey is that the other three nations have done some exceptional things in the past three years. They have each won a 6 nations title, two of them have reached world number 1 and the other got to a World Cup final. Over the same period we have lost to USA, Fiji and Japan (I know there have been impressive results there too but I’m trying to make a point of inconsistency). For me it is easy to see why the 50:50 calls (like a Navidi v Ritchie) may go the way of the one with experience of winning crunch matches and playing in higher pressure matches.

        I fully appreciate that if a player is visibly better (eg Russell over Biggar) then Russell should not be disadvantaged for being Scottish and should go. However in my opinion the tighter calls, I can see why the coin lands facing a certain direction.

  10. john on

    If – Hogg, Russell, Watson, Ritchie, Sutherland, Fagerson, Brown – made the final selection under no circumstance would this weaken the final squad

  11. Andy_F on

    Gatland was explicit in citing the Twickenham game as the reason for our meagre representation.
    You might even think he jumped on it with indecent haste as it spared him having to explain why after beating Ireland and Wales he could barely name never mind select any of players who had triumphed in the head-to-head with the competition.
    Before the championship it was ‘selection on form’. Funny how that was modified to ‘ability to play away matches’….since (excluding Italy) only one game was won away from home all championship.
    Adding insult to (literally) injury was the comment that Huw Jones was in contention….but awww, shame he got injured otherwise he was a certainty.
    Aye right

  12. TeamCam on

    A Lions call up is like a man of the match award: it’s ill-thought through, totally subjective and yet surprisingly valuable. I think people conflate it with quality, despite it not being even close to an indicator of that. Fundamentally the Lions is about making money. They can afford to lose the Scottish audience. That’s life. I actually hope the whole thing is cancelled: I hate Gatland’s Lions and I hate the Springboks. The best case scenario is a token player in the starting XV and lots of patronising nonsense directed our way.

  13. Tryhard on

    Would LOVE to see Graham go as he seems like the player that would thrive on a lions tour and offers something different to all other back 3 options. Would be a total shock though.

    Think I’m in the middle of the pack when it comes to positivity about Scotland’s lions chances. I think we’ll have 5 or 6 tourists and maybe 2 or 3 in the test team. Probably reflects where we are tbh.
    Hogg, Russell, Sutherland, Fagerson, Mcinally, Ritchie will probably be selected if they keep up form and Watson *should* be there but is playing in the most competitive position.

    Overall my stance on the Lions is pretty indifferent. Interested in it but I’m not old enough to have ever seen Scotland have a big enough contingent to get properly invested.

    • Eli Walker on

      There is not many weaknesses in Grahams game.
      I think there are alot of perceived weaknesses (which are not actually there) due to the fact he is small.
      Am i wrong on this ? curious to know, he seems like a fantastic all-rounder to me.

      • Scrummo on

        I agree. I’m sure teams in the future will aim to test him, whether that’s under the high ball or by matching him up against a massive unit.

        However he’s more than answered every question posed so far.

        My favourite back.

  14. Eli Walker on

    Just looking back at the 2017 touring squad..

    Some of the names selected…

    Kristian Dacey
    Cory Hill
    Thomas Francis
    James Haskell
    Ben Teo
    Jared Payne
    Kyle Sinkler
    Dan Bigger

    I’m just curious if some of these players where better than.. (And i don’t know which of these were injured..

    Brown or Mcinally.
    Either of the Grays
    Fagerson
    Watson/Barclay
    Dunbar/Scott/Taylor/Bennett/Jones
    Maitland

    I may be wrong… but i smell Welsh/English bias in at least SOME of those selections.

    Anyway.. Really looking forward to next years lions!

  15. Eli Walker on

    Another Loss for Gatlands Chiefs.. is that 6 or 7 in a row ? (10 if you count his Wales/Babas record) something is going terribly wrong there.

  16. James on

    The fate of our players will probably depend on if a Scottish coach gets picked to join the tour coaching team and who it is. Having someone putting their names forward and fighting their corner is going to be essential to getting a reasonable number of players on the plane.

    I’ve been out the loop on rugby matters, any word on which coaches Gatland is hoping/asked to join the tour? Please god not howley as backs/attack coach!

    Does the choice of Scottish coach affect Russell? Would it be an issue for him working with Toonie or would it be the opportunity they need to sort themselves out?

    I reckon Hogg will go but he won’t be in the test team (Liam Williams will be Gatland’s choice).

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