FORMER Scotland and Lions captain Gavin Hastings believes that Warren Gatland may have erred by choosing just two stand-offs for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour and leaving Scotland’s versatile half-back Greig Laidlaw at home.
Hastings acknowledged that his pre-selection forecasts moved from as few as two Scots being given the nod to as many as six during the recent RBS Six Nations. Having toured with eight other Scots in 1989, when the Lions last won a series in Australia, and captained a squad that initially featured five in 1993, Hastings shared in the general disappointment that just three – Richie Gray, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg – made the 37-man group of 2013.
“I have been as excited as anyone in the last few weeks, selecting numerous squads, and I think I ended up with 27 of the 35 at the last count,” he said. “I won’t be critical of Warren’s selection because it’s a tough job and he had a lot of quality to choose from, but I do wonder why he has gone for three full-backs and two stand-offs.
“I am delighted to see Stuart Hogg in there and he has earned his place, but I fear that he might not get much game-time to prove his worth if he is seen as the third full-back. His skills and hard work have impressed the coaches, and he is obviously seen as a player who can cover full-back, centre and stand-off, but in my opinion Greig Laidlaw would have been the viable option to cover stand-off and scrum-half.
“I was slightly surprised that Conor Murray [Ireland scrum-half] was selected. I thought that Greig had showcased in the Six Nations that he was a better all-round player. First and foremost he is a scrum-half and he has shown what a competitor he is there, and it was good to see him back there, but he also hardly ever misses a goal-kick, has a confidence and an assurance about the way he plays the game and is a leader, all attributes that are needed on a Lions tour. And, with the greatest of respect to the other guys, on a Lions tour you are suddenly playing with guys who are more talented than the players he is playing with at Edinburgh and Scotland and I think Greig would rise to that, and be a pivotal figure in there.
“I also feel Ryan Grant is very unlucky. Matt Stevens is in because of his versatility I guess, but I was aware that the Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree was a fan of his and so he must have been very close. It would not surprise me to see him joining up with them if there is any injury to props.”
As for the Scotland trio selected, Hastings believes that they could become stars of the 2013 tour. “I genuinely do. It will be tough for Stuart I fear, but if he gets his chance he will push the more experienced guys and show that he is a viable option for full-back. But, with just four wingers Sean Maitland will get an early start and I think he will really come through. He’s in because he’s played a very high level of rugby. Sometimes when I’ve been watching him with Scotland this year I’ve seen him thinking ahead of other guys in the team around him, and he has had to alter his style a bit to fit the players he’s working with. But I think potentially when he is playing with the best players in the British Isles and Ireland he could really take off and become one of the stars of this tour. I have no doubts that he will grasp his chance in a country that is familiar to him and show his quality.
“As for Richie [Gray], he hasn’t been picked on form lately either, because he’s been out injured, but he also had to be there because of the potential he has. I wouldn’t always agree with picking that way, but I cannot see anything other than Richie being a great big thorn in the side for the Australians.”
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