Lions coaching role for Gregor Townsend is good news for Scottish hopefuls

Warren Gatland will name his assistants for South Africa expedition on Tuesday morning

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend says he and his squad are fully behind Steve Clarke's football team as they prepare for the European Championships. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

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.


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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.


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About David Barnes 2476 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

16 Comments

  1. I feel a ashamed with my last comment about big Vern,
    as i’m not competent to give my view.
    I hope some more scots will be at the Lions trip to bring some experience of torrids challenges.

  2. Congrats to Gregor.
    About big Vern,
    I think he is a great bloke.
    However, if you have a look at his palmares with Clermont and Montpellier, not so amazing.
    With Clermont Auvergne(with the biggest budget in France at this time)he won the Bouclier de Brennus once.
    Clermont Auvergne lost 4 top 14 finals and a Heineken

  3. I’m pleased for Toony. Its recognition of the strides he has made as a coach. I didn’t hold that hope a few years back. But I think a lot of people are are mentioning Cotter in a rather unfair manner here.

    Lets not forget where we came from in terms of coaches….Matt Williams anyone?

    Its ludicrous to suggest that he’s a poor coach. As clearly he is not with the success he has had elsewhere, and the direction we were heading in when it was announced Toony was taking over. Context is everything.

  4. Cotter was simply not as catastrophic as Johnston. Actually look at Cotter’s results before saying he was good. No wins away from home in 6n apart Italy…no wins at all against England Oz, NZ, SA including our worst ever defeat to England which was a disgrace if a performance. Even in RWC we had a dream of a draw and we toiled horribly against USA Japan and Samoa. There has been plenty to criticise Toony for but his record isn’t even comparable to Cotter. Cotter had to be stood down from his last club due to the poor performance and results. Let’s also be clear that Cotter had the best squad of players that Scotland has had in a couple of decades, most of whom Toony developed. Cotter did very little to gain this strange adulation other than have a SH accent which seems to hypnotise so many in Scottish rugby.

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    • This is a really weird take on Cotter. He did a great rebuilding job. He did benefit from better players coming through but they’ve ere young and Scotland had no recent experience of winning until he hit his stride.

      Fans just have to get to grips with the notion that there is a spectrum between messiah and Matt Williams. Both cotter and Townshend are somewhere on that spectrum, both very able coaches who have done some things well, made some mistakes but moved Scotland on. It’s a much better time to be a Scotland fan than the first 15 years of the 6N, why can’t we just leave it at that?

  5. For some reason mentioning Vern Cotter hits a soft spot for you? It was just an observation, I don’t claim to be an expert on rugby matters.

    Not quite sure what you mean by all or nothing. We had a good Six Nations, almost a great one. Scotland can still be considered nearly men, 6 points this time, but definite progress and three long awaited away wins the past 12 months.

  6. Ali Price for the Lions is notbtgzt outlandish. Truth be told there were precious few 9s playing well in the 6n. Other than one poor game,Price had a good tournament albeit with one or jittery moments

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    • Ali Price is struggling to be the third best scrum half at his club….it’s clearly madness to suggest he would be anywhere near the lions. Even a coach as turgid as Gatland will realise that the stand off can’t wait ten minutes for each ruck/mail to get the ball around his ankles or ears.

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  7. The barometer of how well Townsend is doing among Layman fans is how often Vern Cotter is mentioned. Haven’t seen Cotter mentioned recently.

    Interesting how Scotland has evolved. From that high scoring leaky defence game to being among the teams shipping the least points the past two Six Nations. Perhaps a balance has been found.

    With that added game management that Wales and Ireland seem to show to eke out a win, who knows what’s possible for the next couple of seasons. A lot of out best players are hitting their peak so hopefully they capture that moment for their professional career, fan glory and stories for their grand kids.

    And congratulations Townsend for the recognition.

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    • Perhaps Cotter gave the squad something that is priceless: belief after years of second rate incumbents that the SRU in their supposed wisdom foisted on both team and supporters. However you look at it Cotter was a catalyst, a turning point in our fortunes and the manner in which he was discarded gave little credit to those in situ at Murrayfield, in my humble opinion.

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    • Richard, – this is a really simplistic “all or nothing” view of Townsend’s tenure. He has made mistakes along the way and he has got some things right. it is a journey and “layman fans” like me are allowed to have opinions along the way. Cotter did a lot of good things and raised our standards. Townsend’s job has been to build on this – the signs are hopeful. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and and as your post shows it always gets everything right.

      So well done Gregor Townsend, delighted for him. But absolutely no need to bring Vern Cotter into this moment.

    • Hope they have Tandy pinned down with a long contract. He’ll be in demand soon right enough.

      Shows how important the coaching team is. Townshend i rate very highly but I think Scotland’s beast performances might have come with Dan McFarland alongside him, and we struggled a bit when he left. Not sure if that timeline is quite right though?

      • FF – I think that timeline is exactly right regarding Dan McFarland.

        Rumours that Tandy may be defence coach for the Lions. I wonder who’ll be covering in the Scotland set up while Townsend and possibly Tandy are away.

  8. Would be good for Gregor and Scotland if this happens. Hopefully bringing back great coaching for us.

    However – Ali Price in the Lions??? I will have a pint of what you are drinking David.

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    • I think for Lions Davies and Murray are almost certain to tour, then…no outstanding candidate really.

      Price’s box kicking is poor and he made a high profile error in the Ireland game. But when Finn (England), Hogg (France) were yellow carded, and Finn sent off, it was Price that took responsibility and bossed the team around the park. We played very well when short-handed and I think it showed Price’s leadership in a very good light. With Townshend in the selection room, who clearly trusts Price, I think he’s got a good chance of going as the third and final SH.

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