Warren Gatland’s final test squad announcement has continued a running theme for Scotland; four test series since 2005, zero Scottish players starting any test match. To make matters worse, only three players have made an appearance from the substitutes bench from 2005 to 2017.
Who’s to blame? Scottish rugby? The Lions selection committee? Whoever is responsible, it has led many Scottish fans to criticise the Lions tour, to the extent where former players are stating how they are not excited by the Lions, nor do they either watch the test series:
“I’ve not watched any of the last two tours. I think many people find it difficult to make that transition from a player back to being a fan. Without any Scots players there it’s difficult to latch on to anything and cheer for them.”
Gordon Bulloch, former Scottish rugby union player
In what has read for miserable reading for Scottish rugby, with eight of the last 11 Lions test fixtures failing to boast a player from Scotland, Warren Gatland has piled more misery on the blue and whites by failing to name a Scottish player in any of the test series match day squads, the first time since 1908 – an Anglo-Welsh tour.
Indeed, many pundits and fans had tipped Stuart Hogg to start the first Lions test, following the No.15’s back-to-back Player of the Tournament in the Six Nations; an unfortunate elbow from Conor Murray is the only reason which stopped this taking place.
However, Hogg is still a good case to use as an example of Scottish rugby. The full-back is an exceptional talent, one that has the potential to be world-class and be the greatest 15 in world rugby. But, he is the only Scot in recent years to deserve such accolade.
Scotland are a good team; recent wins over the likes of Australia put the Scots up to No.4 in the world rankings. But, they are a good team as unit, rather than a good team with brilliant individuals.
Greig Laidlaw emphasises this more than anything. A great servant to Scottish rugby along with his teammates at international level; but nowhere near strong enough in a team of Lions. Often been a weak spot when playing for the Lions in games this tour, slowing the ball down, and failing to look like a game changer in a team full of stars.
As a Scottish unit themselves, they have looked promising the past couple of years. Consecutive fourth placed finishes in the Six Nations saw Scotland become a competitive unit once again in Northern Hemisphere rugby, rather than join Italy for the ever so unwanted wooden spoon.
But, it is purely as a team. They simply do not have strong enough individual talent to challenge for a Lions jersey. Richie Gray certainly has reason to argue against this, but the second rows fruition in international rugby has just come at a bad time for a Lions tour; it’s the most competitive area for positions – just ask Joe Launchbury.
Such limitations of Scottish representation has led to the likes of Bill Johnstone, retired BBC broadcaster, and Rory Baldwin, Scottish Rugby Blog, to suggest that some Scots are on the fence as to who they support during a test match:
“It’s one of the reasons for me that the Lions has always been quite a bit below the interest that the Scottish rugby team has held for me. It doesn’t do it for me in the same way that watching Scotland does. — Bill Johnstone
A lot of fans in Scotland, if not necessarily supporting the All Blacks, are edging towards neutrality,” — Rory Baldwin
In what is supposedly meant to be the greatest unification of Northern Hemisphere fans and players, it would appear a vast majority of Scottish people are unwilling to put selection policy aside.
Frustration is understandable, but the fact that in the four previous Six Nations to the build up to the New Zealand tour, Scotland have failed to finish above fourth in any of the tournaments; signs of improvement? Definitely; enough signs to be handing out Lions jerseys? Not just yet.
It’s nothing against Scotland, hence the likes of hope around such a talent of Stuart Hogg; it’s on merit, and sadly the last few years has seen Scottish players just fall short.