Plenty has been said from both sides about the lack of Scottish involvement in the British & Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand. Just two Scots, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour were called up to the initial squad. Greig Laidlaw was then drafted in to replace Ben Youngs and Finn Russell and Alan Dell were called up to cover injuries, becoming part of the notorious ‘geographical six’ called up on geographical convenience above anything else. Whether they should have been there or not, is a conversation for another time.
It’s understandable that some Scots feel disenfranchised. Following a Six Nations campaign where the Scots dispatched of both Ireland and Wales, their inclusion in the tour was pitiful. It seems that poor performances in the Scotland vs England and Saracens vs Glasgow Warriors fixtures really came back to bite them. Players such as Jonny Gray and Hamish Watson can feel unlucky. I also can’t help but feel that if it wasn’t for injury, we may well have seen WP Nel and Huw Jones in the touring squad. They’re not alone in that though, quality players are always left behind from all nations, this year being no different.
A Scottish Fan’s Perspective
As a fan, this means that personally I’m still behind the Lions, as I always am the the home nations, but I certainly am less interested this time around. With Hoggy out injured and none of my team’s favourite players on show, I’m interested to an extent, but it isn’t the same. I’m more interested as a Rugby and Six Nations fan than for any other reason.
I support the Lions first and foremost. But I should be allowed to feel a bit frustrated, in the same way any fan would if their favourite players were all left out of the squad, and not have to explain myself to everyone on Twitter with an opinion.
Securing the Brand
The SRU and Lions need to work together. Scotland were not involved in the coaching set up as coaches/ the union turned down positions. They will have had their reasons, but that meant that some marginal calls perhaps went against the Scots, as you might expect. The coaches are only human; they’re always going to back what they know, who they trust.
What we need is full cooperation- to encourage a Scottish contingent on the tour, at very least in the back-room staff. Scotland can potentially provide a solid fan base but, whether you agree or not, some fans are becoming disenfranchised with the concept. Having a Scottish involvement on the tour is integral to keeping people interested. Just look at how the dropping of Dr James Robson of the SRU caused uproar- it’s not just about players. It’s about feeling involved and valued, even if it’s off the field. Besides, with the strides being made on the field, in four years time I feel like there will be Scottish players forcing their way into contention.
The Lions still need to keep credibility and integrity. Players should only be selected on merit and form. But there needs to be a Scottish voice. Gatland has done a job to even have the Lions beat the All Blacks once, and no matter your opinion of what will happen tomorrow (final test), he has put the Lions in a position to win the series and the value of that shouldn’t be underestimated either.
However, I can’t help but feel his complete over-looking of Scottish players has disenfranchised a lot of people.
This is where the real headaches are. Pre-tour, based on form, Jonny Gray over Iain Henderson? Absolutely. Russell over Biggar? Less stable, but a good mid-weeker, he’s in. Watson over Haskell? I’d say so.
Now? The players have generally stepped up on tour. Iain Henderson in particular has been a pleasant surprise- he has really got back into his best form and was unlucky to lose out to Courtney Lawes for a test spot in the last game. Although it feels unjust, it’s hard to argue with how most of the players have stepped up. That said- I haven’t seen all of all the games- So if you wish to contest that, please drop me and email/message/tweet; I’m just going from the bits of games I’ve seen.
For me there’s no bad blood. It’s disappointing, it does decrease my interest in the ‘Lions’ brand and it hasn’t been the tour I had hoped for. However, the Lions have put themselves in a position to win. Most players have justified selection. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have with Scots involved though; the SRU are as much to blame as anyone else.
Just please, don’t tell me that I’m not allowed to feel disappointed and slightly less interested in the tour.
Oh, and Wales Online it’s not embarrassing, to feel less interested, but perhaps holding onto Halfpenny being man of the series four years ago, is.
There’s an interesting piece on the BBC on the matter, here.
The Scribbler, July 7th, 2017.
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