STRIDING down a catwalk may not be the most natural morning assignment for a British and Irish Lions prop, but Ryan Grant was happy to allow his raised profile to play a part in promoting Scotland’s new strip.
The Glasgow forward was a late call-up for the Lions tour, being flown from Scotland on the eve of their opening tour match with Samoa, only for virtually every Lions commentator and supporter to watch bemused when props fell injured, the scrums came under pressure and still Lions coach Warren Gatland ignored the Scot.
It was a clear example of the lack of research conducted by Gatland and his forwards coach Graham Rowntree, who left the struggling Mako Vunipola, a talented young English prop, but one with well-known scrummaging weakness, to be picked off by the Wallabies front row in the lost second Test rather than bring on a player to stabilise the platform who had gained widespread plaudits in the RaboDirect Pro12 and Six Nations as a scrummager.
Grant was clearly delighted simply to be part of the Lions adventure, having been overlooked initially, but the former Army soldier, who had to fight hard for recognition in rugby after being released by Edinburgh, admitted he now regrets not tackling Gatland on tour.
“It was a great experience and great to be part of a winning Lions Test squad,” he said. “It was a long tour, but there was a lot to learn, I made a lot of friends and it was a good experience.
“But, of course, I was pretty disappointed not to be involved in the Tests. It was tough to take not getting on in the second Test and then not being selected for the third, but I said before I got there that I can only control the controllables. I don’t pick the team and the decisions were made, and ultimately it was a successful tour so they obviously made the right decisions.
“I was hugely disappointed not to be involved in the Tests, but also hugely pleased to be involved in a successful Lions tour. When I look back on it, I probably didn’t speak to Warren or confront him as much as I should have on what I needed to do to get into the Test team. I just wanted to get out there as a late call-up and let my work on the pitch speak for itself.
“I’d say I’ve come home wiser. No matter how much you think you know in a game you don’t know enough, so it was great to get out there and train with Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard and see how other teams do things. There were valuable lessons to be learned everywhere on that tour.”
The big target for all Scots on the tour, Grant having joined Sean Maitland, Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg, and those who felt overlooked will come in the Six Nations next year when they face Wales in Cardiff. And, as is customary with a returning Lion, Grant believes his time spent in Australia has convinced him that Scotland should have nothing to fear then, nor when Australia and South Africa follow Japan in the Autumn Tests.
“I’ll definitely be saying to the boys that if that [Lions] is the top level then we’re there or thereabouts; we just need to keep pushing. Those players are the best in Britain and Ireland and the training standards are huge, and the boys are great, but in the same breath the way we train with Scotland and Glasgow is not a lot different. We train at high intensity here and we trained at high intensity there. There are just little things that the Lions players have over some of the Scottish players, but the differences aren’t great.”
One who was left behind was Greig Laidlaw. He duly went on to lead Scotland on the summer tour, after injury ended Kelly Brown’s trip following the opening game against Samoa, coming close to victory over the Springboks and edging a nervy affair with Italy by a point at the finish.
Laidlaw long ago shrugged off his Lions disappointment, and was all smiles yesterday after getting married at the weekend. Now, he is keen to get moving with Edinburgh hoping that head coach Alan Solomons, due to arrive next week, will instil a necessary stronger leadership.
“I am excited now,” he said. “I’m pleased Alan is coming over next week. Stevie [Scott] has done a good job so far but doesn’t want to do too much in case Alan has other ideas, so the whole squad is on its toes with somebody new coming in.
“With the kind of coach he is I think he is what we need: a hard edge, a true leader, to give us the direction and make sure everybody’s giving 100 per cent week in week out. Last year I don’t know if we had that all the time, so I’m happy he’s coming with that reputation because I think that will change around our fortunes this season. If he drives standards it will give the Edinburgh players the best possible chance of playing well, and ultimately of playing for Scotland.”