Gregor Townsend backing Scots for Lions duty despite tour call-off

Scotland players should not be disadvantaged for comparative lack of game time, insists coach
Gregor Townsend on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1997. Picture: Alex Livesey/AllsportGregor Townsend on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1997. Picture: Alex Livesey/Allsport
Gregor Townsend on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1997. Picture: Alex Livesey/Allsport

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend does not foresee a situation where a comparative lack of game time with players from England and Ireland proves a disadvantage to his players when it comes to selection for next summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.

While clearly not a pressing issue at this moment of public health emergency, resumption of rugby in the northern hemisphere in any form still being discussed and weighed, and a mind-dizzying puzzle of when and how to play Test matches next season in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Townsend remains optimistic that Scottish players will get a fair crack from Warren Gatland, right, and his selectors.

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“There’s still a lot of rugby to play,” said the coach. “A lot of our players put their hands up this year in how they played against some very tough opposition, and it’s disappointing for them as individuals and us as a team that we don’t get to play South Africa and New Zealand on our summer tour – that was going to be the toughest, most challenging tour I’ve ever seen for a Scotland team – but it would have been a good marker for where we were as a team, where individuals are.

“Obviously 12 months ahead of the Lions going to South Africa, Scotland was the country that was going to be touring there so playing well in those games would have put our players in a fair position.”

The English Premiership is making strides to get back up and running behind closed doors soon and Ireland, which has been nowhere nearly as badly hit as the UK, though it did pass 1,500 deaths yesterday, has included a proposed plan to resume rugby in its government road map out of the crisis.

Townsend played in the famous 1997 Lions Test series win over the world champions Springboks alongside fellow Scots Alan Tait and Tom Smith. Since then representation has been minimal, with prop Smith the last Scot to start a Test against Australia in 2001.

“Who knows, maybe that [South Africa-New Zealand] tour will go ahead later in the year and our players just have to play the games in front of them and impress a coaching group that will want to see them in the most difficult situations – away games in the Six Nations, play-off games and PRO14 knock-out games in Europe,” added Townsend.

“If our players can excel in those games, they’ll have more chance of getting on that Lions tour.”

Townsend said last week it would be a privilege to be part of the Lions coaching team next year but felt he would be unlikely to be asked after turning down Gatland’s offer of an assistant backs coach role in New Zealand three years ago, opting instead to lead the Scotland tour after just taking over the national team.

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