CHRIS HARRIS is “sneaking up on the rails” and his recent “superb form” could see the Gloucester centre named amongst a group of five or more Scots in the British & Irish Lions touring party heading to South Africa this summer, according to Finlay Calder.
Calder, the 63-year-old former Scotland back-row who captained the Lions to a Test series victory in Australia back in 1989, has high hopes that some notable recent successes by the national team allied to the presence of Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy in Warren Gatland’s coaching group for the upcoming trip to take on the world champions in their own backyard, will lead to a better Scottish representation this summer than there has been on recent Lions tours.
The chances of Harris making it on to the tour were boosted this week when Wales’ George North was ruled out with a serious knee injury, and Calder for one thinks that the 30-year-old outside-centre with 28 Scotland caps to his name has got what it takes.
“I see Chris Harris sneaking up on the rails, I don’t know the boy personally, but he looks like he is really enjoying his rugby just now and that is shining through in his performances,” Calder said.
“When you go to South Africa you need players in your ranks who won’t shirk a tackle and will not be knocked back in a tackle and Harris is a very strong player who is excellent defensively.
“I have watched him playing over the last season for Gloucester and for Scotland and he very rarely has a bad game or makes an error. He was outstanding for Scotland in the Six Nations, he is in superb form.
“When you have a defensive leader like that in the backs it makes it easier for the flair players around you to work their magic.
“It is clear that Gregor rates Harris highly, now we just have to wait and see if Warren Gatland rates him as highly too.”
The other Scots Calder believes will be named on Thursday are full-back Stuart Hogg for his third tour, stand-off Finn Russell for his second tour, back-row Hamish Watson and winger Duhan van der Merwe.
“Stuart just has to be in there while Finn has so much talent and offers something different to the other 10s around at the moment,” Calder states.
“I do think that Dan Biggar will start the first Test match if fit because he really has hit top form recently and he is a robust player who has been around the block and knows what it takes to try and control big matches, but Finn could be a very useful weapon coming off the bench and if he gets his tour off to a good start then who knows.
“Hamish Watson has been brilliant for Scotland over the last couple of years and he likes a challenge, so like Finn I think he could be of use to the Lions off the bench in the Tests.
“I see a starting back-row of Tadhg Beirne, Sam Underhill and Taulupe Faletau being able to take on the South Africans physically, they are all wonderful players.
“Duhan van der Merwe has had a great start to his time in a Scotland shirt and, as I mentioned, you need guys out in South Africa who will not be knocked back in a tackle.
“He certainly offers a lot in attack and if he can sharpen up his defence he would be a very useful tourist.
“Scott Cummings has an outside chance, but the injuries that he and Rory Sutherland have sustained may count against them.
“At the minute, it looks as if five Scots may go, but if we got six Scots in the squad then I think we could be well pleased with that.”
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In his first Test starting XV on July 24th in Johannesburg, Calder would have six Welsh, five Irish, three English and one Scot with hooker Ken Owens captain, based on current form.
His sole starting Scot would be 28-year-old Hogg who missed out on Test action four years ago in New Zealand when a facial injury forced him to return home just as the Hawick lad was hitting top form.
“I think Stuart is a shoo-in to start the first Test,” Calder explains. “He has matured a lot in the last few years, his move to Exeter Chiefs down south has made him a bit more worldly-wise and he has done a fantastic job as captain of Scotland.
“I think he is now up there with the best rugby players that Hawick has ever produced and that is saying something when you consider the talent that has come out of that town, he is an exceptional rugby player.
“In terms of the Test team in general, if you are going to go to South Africa and win you have to have a pack of forwards that are at the peak of their powers both physically and mentally, if there is a weakness the South Africans will flush that out quickly.
“And you need a good bench so there will still be key roles for a very experienced player like Alun Wyn Jones to do later on in games.”
Finlay Calder’s Lions first Test starting XV:
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland and Exeter Chiefs)
14. Anthony Watson (England and Bath)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales and Scarlets)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland and Leinster)
11. Liam Williams (Wales and Scarlets)
10. Dan Biggar (Wales and Northampton Saints)
9. Conor Murray (Ireland and Munster)
1. Wyn Jones (Wales and Scarlets)
2. Ken Owens (Wales and Scarlets) CAPTAIN
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland and Leinster)
4. Maro Itoje (England and)
5. James Ryan (Ireland and Leinster)
6. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland and Munster)
7. Sam Underhill (England and Bath)
8. Taulupe Faletau (Wales)