THERE are not too many sure things in life but it’s a brave investor who sells Ryan Grant’s stock in the current rugby market.
From going 18 months without a start for Edinburgh back in the Andy Robinson era, the former Royal Engineer has fought his way into the Lions Test 23 for what could be the decisive second test in Melbourne.
“It sound cheesy but its a dream come true,” Grant says, almostapologetically. “I remember playing rugby with my dad as a kid with myLions strip on. I always said I want to play for Scotland but now I’mhere for the Lions. It isn’t real. When I spoke to my fiancée about beingin the Test squad she got quite emotional.
“It’s as high as you can go.”
Grant, being Grant, was not entirely pleased with being on the bench. Coach Warren Gatland said last week that Alex Corbisiero had got the nod over fellow Englishman Mako Vunipola in Brisbane onaccount of his work at the set piece. But, with Vunipola now in after an injury to Corbisiero, it’s not clear what improvement Vunipolahas made in his scrummaging over the last week or so.
Wallaby tighthead Ben Alexander will fancy his chances of embarrassingVunipola in much the same way that Grant, and the rest of the Scottish scrum, got one over the Wallabies this time last year. It was the frontrow that won the late penalty that enabled Greig Laidlaw to kickScotland to that famous win in Newcastle.
“He came off the bench last year,” said Grant of Alexander.“It’s the only time I’ve played against him so he might have a score tosettle!”
If Grant gets on to the pitch – Scotland winger Sean Maitland was unlucky not to appear last weekend in Brisbane – he will do so after a four-day turnaround which is in stark contrast to the seven days players usually have.
Grant was part of the pack which bullied the Rebels in the Lions’ 35-0 win on Tuesday evening and that performance, combined withCorbisiero’s sore calf, has helped the Scot to muscle hisway into the reckoning after the blow of losing to the Brumbies the previous week.
“Most of the boys who played last Tuesday played the week beforeagainst the Brumbies and it seems, for me anyway, losing for the Lionsis worse than losing for any other team,” said Grant.
“You could see the disappointment in the boys. We went out to prove a point on Tuesday and now some of those boys, including myself, have got the opportunity this weekend.
“I’ve never been in an environment that is more hungry for a win and more hungry to make history. Getting here was a bit of an adventure but, now that I’m here, it all feels right and it was good to get the win on Tuesday night and bounce back from that Brumbies game. The scrum went well so I was hoping thatit might have been enough to get me in.
“I got here on Saturday and I had to play the Tuesday night so it was pretty whirlwind trying to learn the lineout calls and the game plan and, on top of that, getting to know everybody. The first couple of days waslike a new boy at school but now it feels natural. Of course I’m disappointed not to be in the starting XV, it’swhat we are all here for, we all want to play Test match rugby, we allwant to start but I wasn’t selected originally so I consider myself very lucky to be named in the Test squad at all.”
Yet luck has little to do with Grant’s rise and, even now, there is a feeling that the English, Welsh and Kiwi coaches who are running the Lions don’t fully appreciate his work in the tight. They might like to ask Adam Jones, the best tighthead in world rugby, who Grant shaded when Glasgow thumped the Ospreys at the end of the season.
With Corbisiero expected to be back in contention for the third andfinal Test in Sydney a week tomorrow, the Scot has a narrow window of opportunity – although the prize is huge and Grant is thinking big.
“What better way to end the 16 years [since the Lions last won aseries] than with a 3-0 win,” he said. “That’s the focusfor my mind and everyone else’s. So we have to get Test two over. We were lucky in Test one and we need to take some of those variables out of the game and control it. I am delighted to be in this Test squad and if and, hopefully, when my opportunity comes, I’ll seize it with both hands.”