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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?