WITH Gregor Townsend set to be unveiled as attack coach for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa on Tuesday morning, Scotland will at least have a voice on the inside as the make-up of Warren Gatland’s squad is finalised.
Scotland have been marginal contributors to recent Lions expeditions. Under Gatland, there was only three Scots (Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray) selected in the initial party for Australia in 2013, and only two (Hogg and Tommy Seymour) made the first cut for New Zealand in 2017.
Hogg, Finn Russell and Hamish Watson are front-runners this time round, while Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Ali Price, Chris Harris, Sean Maitland and Duhan van Der Merwe could all come into contention.
Townsend famously declined an invite to be part of the coaching team in 2017 on the basis that he had to prioritise his first tour in charge of Scotland to Australia and Fiji instead. Meanwhile, Jason O’Halloran, who had just moved from being Scotland attack coach to working under Dave Rennie at Glasgow Warriors, was also asked, but it was decided that he was needed for pre-season at Scotstoun instead. That meant there was nobody in the selection conversations able to provide first-hand insight into what Scotland’s players could add to the squad.
It will be different this year. Speaking after Scotland’s historic win in Paris just over a fortnight ago, Townsend made it clear that he believes his team’s recent away form should result in a greater representation than we have got used to during the last 20 years.
“It should … absolutely,” he said. “Going into the [France] game, we talked to our players and from a stats point of view we felt we were the two best teams – attack and defence stats we were first and second with France in most of the categories – so if you are looking at stats then our players are as good as any out there in the championship.
“If you are looking at wins: to win in France and win in London, no team has done that during the last two years, but our teams have. If you are going to look at playing one of the best teams in the world in South Africa, our players have won out there whether it is with crowds or not, so you’ve got to then say that the players have put themselves in position to be on that tour.
“There will be a few head-to-heads for selection, no doubt, but I felt last night, in the Twickenham game and even the Wales game where we played well for a lot of the match, our players have put their hands up.
“Now it will just go down to selection. But I’m sure we have made it a lot tougher than it was four years ago, and four years before that.”
The Lions coaching team is to be named on Tuesday morning, with kicking coach Neil Jenkins, strength and conditioning coach Paul Stridgeon and several other members of Gatland’s old back-up and medical team with Wales set to tour again.
However, Steve Borthwick, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree have all declared themselves unavailable for different reasons.