THE British and Irish Lions have righted a wrong in the minds of many Scots by belatedly calling up Glasgow prop Ryan Grant to the Australia tour.
That was certainly the mood yesterday in the Scottish squad that Grant left with hearty congratulations bound for Brisbane, even if it altered their plans for today’s opening Castle Lager Test with Samoa in Durban.
Grant had been overlooked by the Lions’ initial selection, which strangely pitched in Test-retired prop Matt Stevens and inexperienced Mako Vunipola, and then called up Alex Corbisiero despite him not having played since November due to injury. This was in spite of Grant’s fine form as a leading prop with Glasgow and Scotland. Grant had chosen to keep his own counsel, but after Cian Healy was ruled out of the tour injured – just hours after being cleared of biting Brett Sheehan in Wednesday’s win over Western Force – and Gethin Jenkins went down with a knock, Grant admitted he endured wildly differing emotions in the space of 48 hours.
“Everything has happened very quickly,” he said. “Scott Johnson [Scotland coach] called me out of the room about an hour ago and said he had a couple of things to talk about and then it was ‘congratulations, pack your bags’.
“I was disappointed when the initial selection came out but every cloud ... I got to come out here with my mates. I love Durban and have been having a great time. So when the news came about Cian Healy, there was an element of excitement that I might go but at the same time I was content here.”
Grant’s memorable day began with planning for the Samoan front row and giant tighthead Census Johnston, changed dramatically with the knock on the door from Johnson and then moved into another gear as he quickly packed what he needed, caught a plane from Durban to Joahnnesburg and then settled in for a flight to Brisbane, where he pitches up this afternoon.
It fits with Grant’s meteoric rise in the game, however. He left the army to turn professional with the Borders only fro the SRU to close the team to save costs. He then spent two years in the shadows at Edinburgh with only a handful of appearances under Andy Robinson before Glasgow signed him to provide front row cover. Injuries gave him his chance and he has since become one of the most consistent performers in British rugby.
It is possible that he may take his Lions bow on Tuesday night, when they face New South Wales-Queensland Country, and that would be particularly apposite as he made his Scotland Test debut in the same Newcastle stadium, and contributed to an historic victory over Australia.
Scotland captain Kelly Brown believes that Grant could force his way into Test consideration, saying: “He is strong at the set-piece, he works hard around the pitch and is often in the top two or three tacklers in the team, and for a loosehead prop that is a very impressive stat. He is also a very good carrier and is someone who, out there on the hard grounds, could be outstanding.”
After calling his fiancee Maxine to tell her to cancel their planned holiday to Malaysia at the end of the month, Scotland’s new Lion added: “Warren Gatland said he would give people an equal chance so I am hoping that when I get out there I can give a good account of myself.
“Hopefully, I can play well enough and win a Test spot, but for now it is a case of getting out there and getting the shirt on.”
His call-up also opens the door for another Scottish prop who has faced gruelling challenges in the game. Alasdair Dickinson will make his first Scotland appearance since before the last World Cup in 2011, and after spending the two years since undergoing shoulder reconstruction operations, thrice, the Dundonian was on the verge of quitting the game. Like Grant his perseverance has paid off and he will have a key role in Scotland’s bid to beat Samoa in Durban this afternoon.
SCOTLAND IN SOUTH AFRICA