Five Scots in Lions team ‘shows national team’s progress’

The Lions head coach has picked three Scots to start against South Africa, with two on the bench.

Five Scots in Lions team ‘shows national team’s progress’ British & Irish Lions

Selecting five Scotland players for his test team shows how far the national rugby team has come, according to British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland.

A Scot has not started for the Lions since Tom Smith against Australia in 2001 but three will start the match against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday, with two more named on the bench.

Full back Stuart Hogg, South African-born winger Duhan van der Merwe and Glasgow Warriors scrum half Ali Price earn starting jerseys, with prop Rory Sutherland and flanker Hamish Watson ready to contribute as replacements.

Gatland, who has drawn criticism from Scottish rugby fans for a perceived reluctance to pick Scots on previous tours in 2013 and 2017, said he hopes to see Gregor Townsend’s team go on to win titles.

The Lions boss said: “I thought the last Six Nations was the closest Six Nations that I’ve seen in a long time.

“Take Italy out of it and any of the teams were capable of beating each other.

“That’s what you want to see and even though Scotland did finish fourth in the end if they’d got another victory things would have been different.

“I think they are on an upward journey and hopefully that continues for them because the important thing is making sure they continue winning those big games.

“That hopefully leads to winning titles and players knowing how win Grand Slams or win championships – that is when you are able to take your team to the next level.

“I think Scotland are in the mid-process at the moment of developing real depth in the squad and I hope they can continue to build on that.

“That is the challenge going forward, but they have definitely made improvements over the past four or five years – there is no doubt about that.”

Gatland explained that the team selection had been the toughest of his Lions tours and admitted some players were extremely unlucky not to be named to take on the world champion Springboks.

But with three tests to be played over the next consecutive weekends, he has reassured all the players that their time may yet come.

Gatland said: “Stuart Hogg has been very unlucky in that it is his third tour but his first test start.

“It was a toss of the coin between him and Liam Williams [to play at full back]. It could have gone either way but we just felt for this game we had to give Stuart the opportunity.

“We hope that he takes his chance.

“We have been really impressed with Ali Price. His running game against the Stormers was good, he has nice variation and he was getting the ball away quickly.

“In saying that it is not just about the starting 15 and looking at South Africa up front, and on their bench, we had to ensure the balance was right with experience on our bench.

“It is going to be a real challenge for Duhan van der Merwe. We can’t afford to do with we did in the South Afica ‘A’ game and kick the ball down Cheslin Kolbe’s throat or give him as much time and space on the ball.

“I spoke to Duhan yesterday about what is coming at the weekend and he was fully aware that every time he touches the ball they will be trying to hit him with everything they’ve got.

“There will probably be some verbals for him as well so he is well aware of what is at stake but he has been incredibly relaxed – the way he has been running with the ball, beating defenders and scoring tries.

“It was a really tough call leaving Josh Adams out but I spoke to a lot of players and showed them stats from pervious tours of how many changes to the test team have been made so everyone, even though they are not involved on Saturday, will hopefully still get opportunities.”