Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


SRB on Safari: Scottish Lions watch

Chris Harris
2021 British & Irish Lions Tour To South Africa British & Irish Lions Gym Session and Squad Training, South Africa 1/7/2021 Chris Harris Mandatory credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

The opening two fixtures of the British & Irish Lions campaign are done and dusted, and – say it in hushed tones for now in case any award winning journalists overhear –  the Scottish representatives have played their part and mostly shown up pretty well.

Zander Fagerson has so far only seen a few minutes of action so far, however he will start against Cell C Sharks on Wednesday 7th July where we can more fairly gauge his performance levels. Here’s how the others have fared so far:

Rory Sutherland

The loosehead whose involvement was at risk due to a shoulder knock picked up in the last Six Nations match has played 50mins in the opener v Japan in the familiar surroundings of Murrayfield.

Still getting back to fitness, he performed competently enough as he battles it out with Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola. He left the field with the Lions 28-0 up, drew Pascal Gauzerre’s ire early doors when he conceded a free-kick in an otherwise untested Lions’ scrum. Maybe should have done the same for him as Fagerson. Will be on the bench against Sharks, ready to replace Vunipola.

Hamish Watson

The Guinness Six Nations Player of the Year played the full 80mins against Sigma Lions, winning Player of the Match in the process.

Took less than 10mins to bounce off a tackle in trademark fashion and drive over the try line from close-range. Topped the tackle count with 16/16, including a thumping hit on Burger Odendaal when the hosts were exerting some pressure. Made 25m with ball in hand, the third-highest in the pack, behind only Faletau (29m) and Itoje (26m) but this still isn’t enough for a certain pundit whom I won’t name because it would give them the attention they so desperately crave.

The Mish’s two biggest rivals at openside flanker – Josh Navidi and Tom Curry, will make their Lions’ bows against the Sharks in the 7 & 8 jerseys respectively.

Ali Price

Has played precisely a full-match’s worth over the two ties, 20mins against Japan and an hour against Sigma Lions.

Box kicked very well against Sigma giving Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit something to chase, delivery was crisp, and he got himself on the scoresheet from a deliberately overthrown line-out. Some had questioned his inclusion in the squad, but on current form him and Gareth Davies will have a hell of a tussle in trying to claim that Test bench spot behind tour captain Conor Murray. Davies’ familiarity with Gatland may prove to his advantage there; Price’s familiarity with the next Lion wanting to go rampant may prove to be to his.

Finn Russell

I sometimes wonder if I’m overly biased, quite mad, or watching the same game as others when reviewing Russell’s performances, but I thought he had an extremely tidy run out against Sigma.

Kept the B&I Lions on the front foot and rolling forwards at all times, either by feeding it short to the likes of Lawes or Itoje, taking it to the line and drawing defenders in before spinning it wide or the occasional nudge ahead. It was his call to Price to play from deep which led to the first Lions score, and other than his final kick going out on the full and a bit of a mix-up in defence – which wasn’t entirely his fault – leading to the second Sigma score, it was quite a restrained performance, and not the madcap, risk-taking, silliness that some people have portrayed it as. It’s almost like they don’t approve of rugby players trying to play rugby when a good old, skyscraping Garryowen’s on offer.

Cross-kicked perfectly for one of Josh Adams’ 4-tries, and had tried one earlier from deep to the same teammate which nearly worked. Alright, it was also nearly intercepted, however, the B&I Lions were already in front and in control at this point, so it was a calculated risk at the time. And he only threw a pass across his own try-line because he knew a penalty was coming, he’s really not that daft. Biggar is still in the driving seat for Test spot unless he hits a massive slump in form.

Chris Harris

An excellent first run out for the late-blooming Gloucester centre, who carried straight and true, and showed a lovely touch with the boot when he chipped ahead in the opening minutes. If Louis Rees-Zammit wasn’t so quick he might have collected it himself for his own debut score.

As well as showing an attacking threat, he showed up as well as we’ve come to expect in defence, making 11 tackles; one of which was vital in stopping Sigma during their first spell of pressure with the B&I Lions 14 points up.

Brought back memories of his tackle on Vakatawa in the second half when dropping Jordan Hendrikse. In very good form.

Duhan van der Merwe

Another for whom the knives were out before he’d been asked if he preferred a window or aisle seat, the hulking South African was harshly criticised despite his try-scoring performance against Japan.

Showed great energy and awareness in scoring his try, starting with a break down his natural left-wing before popping up on the right and spotting a gap round the side of a ruck to break clear and jog over the line.

Was criticised in some quarters for the amount of space he left on the outside when defending, but it looked like a systemic decision to stay narrow. Even then, when Kotaro Matsushima did get on the outside of Van der Merwe, DVDM still managed to snaffle the world-class winger.  

Stuart Hogg

Captains Scotland, has now captained the Lions, and after Liam Williams impressed against Japan, Hogg gave a big performance to show he wants that Test 15 shirt he was expected to claim before an unfortunate meeting with Conor Murray’s elbow on the last tour.

Took two difficult high balls early on, but his defensive highlight came in the second half when he chased down Sibusiso Sangweni from 50 yards, hauling the flanker to the floor and helping turn possession over 5m shy of the visitor’s try line.

Showed glimpses of the dancing feet and turn of pace which can unlock any defence, and stayed involved from first minute to last. With ten minutes to go he ran nearly the full length of the pitch chasing down an Elliot Daly clearance.
Liam Williams is named at full-back v Sharks with Anthony Watson – another potential 15 – on the wing, so this could signal Gatland considers it a straight shoot-out between Hogg and Williams for the full-back slot.

There are still four warm-up matches to go on this shortened tour, but so far so good to very good for the Scottish potentials. Watson, Harris, and Hogg were Test XV candidates pre-tour and have each had eighty good minutes, albeit against the supposedly weakest opposition. Fagerson’s case is currently unproven, Sutherland needs more minutes, but the half-backs and Duhan have their hats in their hands and with one more good performance will have their hats very much tossed in the ring.

14 Responses

  1. Fair assessment. Just finished watching the game back and was impressed by all the Scots – Watson and Harris in particular.

    Think Russel is judged more harshly than most (no mention of Farrells two horrible missed tackles for example….). He plays so flat to the line and his passing is excellent. He reads the game 3 seconds quicker than most. Being critical he needs to calm the dinks in his own 22. Looking forward to watching biggar against the sharks to see how deep he stands and how crisp his passing is.

    1. Yes, a lot of criticism of Russell where for me Farrell was causing the issues.
      Looking at various player ratings and both of them seemed to get the same mark a lot of the time which shows the bias against Russell.

      Interesting that there is no 10 cover for the next game – wonder if we will see Hogg there for the last 20 or if Biggar gets injured. If so and he goes well the versatility can only help his chances.

      1. I’m wondering if they want to give Hogg game time at 10 ahead of the tests which might not exactly be a vote of confidence in Russell and Farrell. That might allow them to shoehorn Williams, A Watson and Daly into the 23 with no need for Russell and Farrell.

      2. That would be mad. Hogg is an extremely pedestrian FH and the Lions would not win with him there. Hogg is strictly a ‘break glass in case of emergencies’ 10 and I can’t believe Gatland would willingly go into a test with him as FH back up.

      3. What FF said -no way they will play without a backup 10 in the big games.
        Can see 2 reasons for it though
        1. Backup backup 10 in worst case scenario
        2. Backup 10 when 2 10’s have been in a game 3-4 days ago and need the rest.

  2. Zander like Price is at best looking for a bench spot. Furlong will start unless injured, which is probably fair enough. Been noticeable that in the two games the Lions have not really monstered scrum though so if they can do so this week it might go well for him and the other front rows.

    I had Harris as nailed on dirt tracker but if Henshaw is injured and ends up not being a guaranteed starter its all up for grabs.

    Realistically DvM is one of 4/5 guys going for one wing slot. How does Gatland not pick Adams? But he has a decent chance for that as I didnt think much of Zammit.

    1. Adam’s will play harder games on tour and needs to show up in them. I think he will, he usually does, but I don’t think 4 tries against the weakest opposition is the golden ticket into the test side.

      LRZ was anonymous and needs a big turnaround. DVDM at least have a good account of himself so is in the mix but I expect Lions will go for more reliability than he offers.

      Hogg was great though and I think Gatland is a fan. I think it’s plausible we could have three starters in the first test: Sutherland, Watson and Hogg making very good cases.

      I think Price has looked like best SH so far but expect Murray has it sewn up.

      1. Fair point.

        But if you look at him over the last few years Adams has a remarkable strike rate at test level. So I think he will be one winger.

        LRZ is a super quick and… er… hes very quick. In a few years he may well be the player Walesonline say he is but I think he needs to offer more to get a test jersey. May, VDM and even Williams more likely I think.

        I reckon Price and Davies will both look great in the tour games, as a nippy running scrumhalf will behind a dominant pack. And he will still pick Murray.

      2. I agree that Adams will need to show up in the tougher warm up games but for me at the moment he’s in line for a test start on the wing, I also wouldn’t be shocked it Anthony Watson or Liam Williams was on the other wing for the tests as in my opinion they are better defenders and better under the high ball than the other options for wing.

      3. Newhavenboy – you’re probably right, the Lions do have the players in pole position to play hoof ball (Murray, Biggar, Aki, Henshaw). It’s intriguing they could pivot to a much more ambitious game that Toonie usually favours (Eg. Davies/Price, Russell, Farrell as a second 5/8, Daly at 13). I’m not sure we’ll see the game plan emerging until the eve of the tests.

        Also, I think Adam’s has an excellent chance to start, I just meant that it’s too early to make any calls in the team really. One game that goes awry, or one game where someone rips it up really can swing decisions.

  3. The midfield is interesting as like backrow its not so much about who the best player is but how they want to play right.

    Thought I have is if Farrell is the only viable option for a playmaking 12? Not sure.

  4. Re media being down on Scots, I watched the game with SA commentary. They were full of praise for Hogg, Russell and Watson, with fair comments on the other Scots. On Watson- that’s why they call him Pinball, those are big, heavy tacklers he’s throwing around.

    1. Thought the same about the SA commentators.
      Often hear veteran SA rugby folk speak of their upbringing on, and reverence for Bill McLaren’s commentary during their isolation years. Maybe it rubbed off?
      They identified most of the players and correctly pronounced their names – Jiffy Davies, looking at you here!
      They were knowledgeable about the tourists and added insight when they had something to say…not just when they had to say something and did so without the superfluous superlatives.
      Commentated on what the viewer was seeing and largely refrained from banter and soundbite highlight reel material.
      Competent work in other words.
      How refreshing!

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