British and Irish Lions legend Scott Hastings understands the sense of frustration over the lack of Scottish representation on the current tour but believes that it has come “a year too early” for the current Scotland team.
Head coach Warren Gatland has named another Test match 23 devoid of the two current remaining Scots who are part of the squad –Tommy Seymour and Greig Laidlaw – for tomorrow’s second clash with the All Blacks in Wellington.
There has also been controversy over Gatland’s decision to pull in stand-off Finn Russell and prop Allan Dell from the Scotland summer tour before releasing them after using them for a combined 15 minutes in midweek games.
But 1990 Grand Slam hero and two-time Lions tourist Hastings backed Gatland yesterday. “I can understand there has been frustration at the lack of Scots influence on the tour and in the Test team but this Lions tour came a year too early for this particular group of Scottish players,” he said. “If this was a year on and the players a bit more ready coming off the back of a decent Six Nations then we would have seen more Scottish representation.”
Hastings was speaking at the launch of the ‘100 Streets Challenge’ encouraging people to walk, run or cycle 100 streets to promote physical activity and mental wellbeing. He was there with his wife Jenny, both of whom are Charity Ambassadors for Support in Mind Scotland, the charity running the initiative.
Hastings believes that a few Scots can consider themselves unlucky to have missed out but has sympathy with Gatland’s decision to go with more tried and tested players.
“I always said Hamish Watson was the top performer for me at openside in the Six Nations and I would have had him in my original Lions squad,” continued the former centre. “But the Lions is all about combinations and blends and Warren Gatland has been trying to find those combinations and blends but remember it is such a short tour it has been difficult for him to experiment.
“Finn Russell and Allan Dell may have just made cameo appearances on the tour but they will come back better for it with a desire in four years time to be part of the tour to South Africa.
“But of course it is frustrating at the lack of Scots and with Stuart Hogg he was unlucky. I can sympathise with him because in 1993 I was injured in the jaw, one week out from the Test match, five weeks into the tour. It was devastating for me. It happened against Otago and I missed the first Test like Stuart.”
While some have argued that Russell may have deserved to be in the initial squad, Hastings is not so sure and believes the 24-year-old has work to do before he can be considered for such a rarefied level.
“No I wouldn’t [have had him in the original squad],” he said. “I think Finn did not play with enough continuity and command in the Six Nations. He was prone to the odd mistake and his game management wasn’t all it could be. That was also proven in the European match between the Warriors and Saracens.
“When you look at the three 10s they have taken they always had that edge over Finn Russell for selection.”
Hastings is not in full agreement with the team Gatland has picked for tomorrow’s must-win second Test following last weekend’s 30-15 reverse in Auckland.
“I can understand why Warren Gatland has gone for that team,” he said. “I would have held the same back division because I think they performed well. I would have kept Ben Te’o in the team as he has been one of the stand-out performers across the whole tour.
“He must feel hard done by by ending up on the bench. In the second row with Mario Itoje coming in it gives it a real impetus in the forwards.
“[Sam] Warburton, as captain on the tour, has shown, that he can lead from the front. What is needed across the whole team is the intensity that was there on Saturday in the first Test but in the second half I felt the Lions were outplayed.
“There has to be a cohesion, a will to win, in what is one of the biggest games in the history of the Lions.”
Hastings was part of the only previous Lions side to recover from a first Test defeat and win a series, playing in the famous ‘Battle of Ballymore’ which levelled things up in the 1989 tour to Australia before clinching it in Sydney the following week. “In the first Test the pack had been bullied off the ball by Australia,” recalled Hastings, who was one of a number of changes made for the victorious second and third Tests.
“When the team was selected, bringing in Wade Dooley and Mike Teague, the forwards got an absolute roasting from Roger Uttley but had a real honesty session with [captain] Fin Calder.
“They knew they had to up their intensity and when you’ve got fiery characters like Brian Moore and Dai Young in your pack, it was a tinderbox waiting to be lit.”