British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland stays true to his word and rewards Scotland for awayday success
Last year, Gatland defended his selection policy and challenged the Scottish players to show they could win important Test matches away from home to prove they were equipped for the rigours of a three-Test tour against the world champion Springboks.
Gregor Townsend’s side picked up the gauntlet and have since won on the road against Wales, England and France in the Six Nations.
Gatland was true to his word and rewarded the awayday heroics by picking eight Scotland players for South Africa, the highest representation since 1989.
“When you pick a Lions squad, you don’t look at what nations the players come from. You probably look at that afterwards,” Gatland insisted as he revealed the 37-man squad that will take on Japan at BT Murrayfield on June 26 before heading to Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“I was involved in 2009 when Ian McGeechan was the head coach and I think we had two Scots on that tour.
“The pleasing thing for me is that the last two Six Nations – and particularly the last Six Nations – those two wins away from home against England and France put a lot of Scottish players into contention.
“So, it wasn’t about them pushing the Scottish players, it was about picking people we thought could do the job for us.
“I’m delighted because it is the closest Six Nations I have seen with five teams who, on their day, can all beat each other.”
The spread of nationalities in the squad is far more even this time around, although England remain top dogs despite their poor Six Nations. They supply 11 players, one more than Wales who won the Championship, while Scotland and Ireland provide eight apiece.
Townsend’s role in Gatland’s coaching team will have provided a strong Scottish voice in the selection meetings and the New Zealander has made no secret of his admiration for Steve Tandy, the Scotland defence coach who will perform the same role with the Lions.
Townsend, who as Lions attack coach will work most closely with stand-offs Finn Russell, Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell, said he was thrilled that so many of his players got the call but echoed Gatland’s contention that ability overrode nationality.
“I’m delighted for those guys,” said the Scotland coach. “I know they will do really well on that Lions tour.
“I have mixed emotions as I know players have missed out that I have close working relationships with, players I worked with at club and international level. I have the experience of being left out. I had the phone call in 2001 telling me I was not in the squad. That is the biggest blow in my playing career so I know it will be hard for the guys that will miss out. For those selected it will be a huge highlight.
"It does not come down to nationalities. It comes down to each position, from loosehead to full back.”
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