Rugby: Lions loss can be a gain for Scotland

Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Sean Maitland are heading Down Under. Picture: SNS
Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Sean Maitland are heading Down Under. Picture: SNS
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RUGBY legend Scott Hastings has urged the Scots in Warren Gatland’s squad for the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia to seize the opportunities that will arise during the ten-match tour that starts with a game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 and features three Tests against Australia.

However, he believes the fact that so few Scottish players will make the trip can act as a catalyst for those who have been overlooked. Referring to Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray, the trio who were included in the squad of 37 that will make the trip Down Under, Hastings said: “I hope the three guys who have been selected will go on tour and revel in it and respond to the demands.”

But, with the Scotland tour party also heading for a tough assignment in June in the form of a four-team competition that includes South Africa, Samoa and Italy, the former centre, who was twice a Lion and won 65 caps for Scotland, added: “The Lions’ loss is Scotland’s gain. There is a massive tour to South Africa coming up.”

Hastings believes the South African venture will offer an opportunity for those omitted by Gatland to lay the foundations for other forthcoming challenges, adding: “The Scotland players now need to focus on the build up to the Rugby World Cup in 2015.”

Of the meagre tally of Scots who will head for Australia, two ply their trade with Glasgow, while Gray is in the final weeks of a spell at Sale Sharks before moving to French club 
Castres. The absence of any players from Edinburgh is the latest blow in a dismal season for the Murrayfield outfit, which has endured a difficult RaboDirect PRO12 campaign and an even worse effort in the Heineken Cup – a combination that eventually cost coach Michael Bradley his job.

The poor results were reflected in the balance of the Scotland squad for the RBS Six Nations being tilted towards Glasgow Warriors and exiles. And, although there were suggestions that three Edinburgh players were under consideration for inclusion by Gatland, it came as no huge surprise to Hastings that the club was not represented in a party that features 15 players from RBS Six Nations champions Wales – among them Sam Warburton, who has been handed the role of captain – nine Irishmen and ten England players.

“I don’t think Ross Ford and Tim Visser were in the frame,” said Hastings of two men whose names had circulated among the many predictions over recent weeks. However, he believes that the decision to omit the third man who featured on those lists was less clear cut. “I think Greig Laidlaw must have been really close to being picked ahead of Conor Murray for his flexibility, his nous and his reading of the game. If there was an Edinburgh player in the frame it was Laidlaw.”

And, suggesting it was likely that Laidlaw’s name featured in some of the discussions surrounding the positions where competition for a tour berth was most fierce, he added: “As Warren Gatland said, there were seven selection committee meetings and three or 
four positions were heavily 
debated.

“But the fact that he wasn’t selected means he is in the same situation as a lot of other players and the likes of Rory Best and (England captain) Chris Robshaw will be disappointed as well. I also thought (Scotland captain) Kelly Brown had an outside chance.”

As ever, the selectors will draw criticism over the omissions although Gatland appears to have chosen his squad with a specific style of play in mind. But, while admitting that eyebrows will be raised at some of the inclusions, Hastings insists that the disappointment of non-selection is an issue that accompanies all team sport and is something the Scots must live with.

Nevertheless, with the trip still a month away and a demanding schedule in prospect once the tour gets underway, he suggested there may yet be opportunities for the Scottish contingent to increase.

“Injuries will play a part and there could still be opportunities for some of those who have been left out. Some players may be injured before the tour and some possibly while on tour, so who knows what might happen and which positions might be affected.”