HALF the Scottish contingent of the British and Irish Lions squad returned home yesterday and admitted to disappointment at the lack of game time in the victorious Test series.
Only Richie Gray made an appearance in the 2-1 win over Australia, and that was as a late replacement in Saturday’s 41-16 third Test victory when the game was done and dusted. Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant, who did not return to Scotland yesterday, were unused replacements in the first and second Tests respectively.
Gray and full-back Stuart Hogg both touched back down in Glasgow via Heathrow yesterday morning and the blond lock forward said: “It’s a tough one, obviously we would have all liked to have been involved a lot more. But sometimes that happens. We’ve learned a lot from the experiences and we’ve come back better players.
“If you’re not involved you can go up and ask how do I need to improve, how do I get into the team and the coach gives you good feedback.
“It’s not something I did. Obviously you review a game with your coaches, so I suppose I did in a way; they kind of drip feed things back into you.”
Gray, who will play for French club Castres next season, was nevertheless happy to have played a small part in a memorable triumph – the Lions first series victory since 1997 – and added: “It was pretty special. Thankfully the boys had scored a few tries so I was maybe not as nervous as I was going to be. I was very privileged and honoured to get a cap.
“I thoroughly enjoyed myself over the course of the month.”
“Having the experience, not just over the last couple of days, but over the course of the whole event since we met up mid-May, has been unbelievable. The most remarkable thing is how all these guys came together, guys you’d knock lumps out of during the season, come together and you have to forge this bond.
“I’m now looking forward to just getting out there and getting settled and seeing what French rugby is all about.”
Fellow Scot Stuart Hogg failed to notch up any game time in the Tests, but performed well for the midweek side and believes he has benefited from being part of the Lions squad.
He said: “It was a brilliant experience – an experience I will never, ever forget. As much as I would have loved to have been involved with the Test series team, I’m still coming back here a better player. The feedback was that I just needed to keep working harder at my game. I made a few mistakes when I was playing and a couple of those mistakes could win or lose the game.
“I’ll take that on the chin and go back onto the training pitch and work harder.”
Former Lions head coach Jim Telfer had expressed he, too, was disappointed the Scottish contingent were not used more by head coach Warren Gatland. And 21-year-old Hogg agreed with that opinion. “That was a pretty valid point because our boys work incredibly hard – just as much as anyone else does,” Hogg said. “But it’ll make us hungrier for the next time.”
Hogg is now preparing to turn his focus back to his club career with Glasgow as they aim to build on last season’s RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final.
Hogg added: “I’m just looking forward to a rest now and then getting back into it with Glasgow. I’m looking forward to getting back into training. We got to the semi-finals last year and I’m hoping to do one better in the season ahead.”
Tradition dictates that, as the youngest member of the touring party, Hogg was handed the task of looking after BIL, the soft lion toy that the captain carries onto the pitch for every match of the tour. The Hawick youngster’s last act as a 2013 Lion was to tweet that the mascot had made it home safe.
“Back home now. Just to keep you all informed, BIL has made it home and is now enjoying himself with a beer,” tweeted with a picture of BIL next to a bottle.
Earlier, more than a hundred fans welcomed home the triumphant Lions at Heathrow, a huge cheer going up when captain Sam Warburton emerged with the Tom Richards Cup on top of his baggage trolley.