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The 20-year Lions Test itch Scotland want scratched next Thursday

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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We will know for sure next Thursday how huge an impact Scotland players have had on this 2021 Lions tour to South Africa. That is the day when Warren Gatland is due to name his first Test team to play the Springboks on July 24 in Cape Town and with Scotland not having had a Lions Test team starter since Tom Smith in 2001, there is a 20-year itch waiting to be scratched. 

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We all sadly know about the peripheral role Scotland have had with the Lions during the professional era. After Smith’s high profile role versus Australia, it’s as if the Scots have become an afterthought when it comes to Test team selection. 

Gordon Bulloch was given a blink-and-you-missed cameo off the 2005 bench in the dead rubber final Test versus the All Blacks, Ross Ford likewise in the 2009 dead rubber final Test versus the Springboks, while Richie Gray was the token Scottish selection when he appeared off the bench in the 2013 series-deciding Test versus the Wallabies.   

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There was no hope of Test selection in 2017 after just two Scots made the original squad and Stuart Hogg was invalided out of the tour following a friendly fire cheekbone-breaking collision with Conor Murray in Christchurch in the tour’s third warm-up game. 

However, 2021 appears to be the year when Scotland have finally come of age in the modern-day professional era of the Lions. The eight-strong representation in the Lions squad unveiled on May 6 was the biggest contingent the Scots have had in an initial touring party since nine were named for the 1989 tour to Australia which was captained by Finlay Calder.

They have encouragingly been busy as well since then. For the matches versus Sigma Lions and the Sharks, there were four Scots in each starting XV, while they have five starters in this Saturday’s clash with the Stormers and two more selections on the bench – with the injured Finn Russell the only Scot absent. It’s the fourth start in six matches for Duhan van der Merwe, the third start for Rory Sutherland, Hamish Watson and Ali Price, and the second start for Hogg, the matchday skipper who missed a week of the tour through self-isolation. Meanwhile, Saturday’s replacements Chris Harris and Zander Fagerson have respectively started three and one matches with the sidelined Russell also having had one start prior to his achilles tear. 

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The challenge now is to turn all this hectic activity into Test team involvement and Gregor Townsend, the Scotland boss who is working as backs/attack coach for Warren Gatland, has been pleased with how his Scottish contingent have featured so far on the Lions tour.      

“I believed they have played very well,” he said ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Stormers in what is the Lions’ final match before the Test series begins. “They have been consistent with their performances. I am here coaching the whole group but I have been delighted with how well the Scots guys have integrated, how they have thrived in this environment and taken their opportunities. 

“So many players have taken opportunities that it is going to be a very tough selection and I am sure at the end of it when we get to that 15 and that 23 we will be delighted with who we select and we will know if we pick up injuries or have to change things throughout the Test series we will still have a really strong team, so it’s a credit to all the players in the squad.”

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The 20-year Lions Test itch Scotland want scratched next Thursday

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