Yesterday’s British & Irish Lions squad announcement was controversial for a variety of reasons, none more so than the meagre Scottish representation. Now coaches Warren Gatland and Andy Farrell explain why.
If Warren Gatland wasn’t aware of the intensity of Scottish rugby passion before, he certainly will be today. The ink was barely dry on his expanded 41 man squad before criticism started raining in from Scottish, English, Irish and even Welsh pundits and fans. There were so bold calls like the ones to leave out England’s talismanic, but oft cited, captain Dylan Hartley and outstanding 2nd Row Joe Launchbury.
But the real headline was the lack of a healthy Scottish representation, despite their most successful Six Nations in a generation and reaching their highest ever World Ranking of 5th.
This has even led some Scottish fans to question whether we should boycott the tour altogether.
— Scotland Rugby News (@ScotRugbyNews) April 19, 2017
Backs Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour were the only Scottish players named, making this the first squad in over 100 years that didn’t contain a Scottish forward and even less than the 3 who travelled in 2013.
People have been quick to point out that Wales, the team that Gatland coaches in his day job, received a staggering 12 players – despite being well beaten by Scotland and finishing below them in the final Six Nations table.
But Gatland denies any implication of bias saying: “Look, we understand they (Scotland) are going to be disappointed but it wasn’t about what nation you come from. We put together what we thought was the strongest possible squad.”
He also cited the heavy 61-21 loss to England as a major contributing factor.
“We just felt we’d looked at the footage, we’d done our due diligence, looked at the game in Twickenham.”
Gatland suggested the fact that they lost away to England and France means Scottish players would struggle in the harsh rugby environment of New Zealand (despite the fact that his own Welsh team have struggled to beat Southern Hemisphere opposition home or away).
“There’s no doubt that Scotland have done very well. They will be aggrieved and disappointed about that. They performed exceptionally well at home.
“And we are not playing at home. We are playing away from home. Scotland haven’t been to New Zealand since 2000. And we are playing the best team, back-to-back world champions in their own backyard. We have to perform away from home, that’s going to be paramount.”
It was also revealed that Glasgow reaching the European Quarter Finals was not seen as a strength, but rather a further weakness care of their 38-13 loss to Saracens.
“When I looked at it, and I looked pretty closely at the Glasgow-Saracens game, there were some pretty strong performances there by the Sarries. They could have been well up a bit earlier.”
The fact that two of the Scotland players tipped by some to tour (Sean Maitland and Duncan Taylor) actually play for Saracens seems to escape the Kiwi, whose knowledge of the Scottish player’s names had been questioned by prominent Scottish commentators.
The most revealing quote in his Sky Sports interview seems to suggest that, whilst he recognises Scotland’s improvement, he doesn’t rate the individual players:
And probably the greatest strength that Scotland have had is probably their collective performance. They’ve been well coached by Vern (Cotter) who’s done an exceptional job.
Assistant Coach and former rugby league player Andy Farrell also added to the sense that Scotland are seen as a team of overachievers, as opposed to individually talented players.
“Scotland have done unbelievably well as a team in this Six Nations,” Farrell said. “But when you are picking individuals you have a process that you go through for months and when you break it all down you’ve got to make a decision and we’re very happy with the 41 we’ve ended up with.
“These are the best of the best from the four countries. They are competitors and that’s exactly what we want. We don’t want them to accept being second best. We want them all to be pushing for places. That creates character within the squad and that’s exactly what we need.
“We’re fortunate to have such a depth of talent to pick from but if you look at these tours and how attritional they are… every four years the game gets tougher and there are always injuries and there’s a lot of big games over here before we get on the plane and there’s no doubt one or two things will happen before then.
“I look at the squad and the names we’ve picked – all 41 of them. I see players that won’t just accept being a British and Irish Lion or test player. A lot of these guys are used to winning and that’ll be at the forefront of the mind.”