CHRIS Paterson has backed Scotland’s low-key Lions to roar back from a disappointing 2013 tour in which they played only a peripheral role in the Test series win over Australia to become key men on the 2017 trip to New Zealand.
Scotland’s most capped player was speaking at Forrester Rugby Club in Edinburgh yesterday, where he was helping launch next month’s RBS RugbyForce initiative, aimed at assisting clubs in becoming more engaged with their local communities.
Paterson believes that the excitement of Saturday’s sensational victory for Warren Gatland’s team over Australia could be a highly effective launchpad for growing the game outside Scottish rugby’s traditional heartlands – despite the fact that Richie Gray’s late cameo at the end of the third Test was the only appearance by a player from north of the border throughout the Test Series. Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant were also on the tour and featured in the warm-up matches, but none was picked for a Test
“The Lions is special and it was great to see them get that win. For kids, to see the exposure it gets now – how big the crowds are and all the fanfare that goes along with it – is really inspiring, whether there are Scots playing or not,” said Paterson.
“‘Of course we’d all have loved to have seen more Scots involved, but that’s water under the bridge now. By the time next season kicks off that will be nothing more than a fading memory because in professional sport you have to focus on what lies ahead. I have no doubt that they’ll all have a successful season next year.
“And I think the ones who were there played well in the game time they got; and they’ll all be available and at the peak of their powers for the next trip in 2017 – so this will have stood them in good stead,” he added.
“I’m sure they’ll all readily admit that they didn’t get everything out of the tour they had hoped for, but they are all young enough to use that as motivation internally. There is no point just saying that for the sake of saying it – they have to turn it into a positive action, which means working on the part of their game which perhaps counted against them this time round so that it is seen as a real strength by the time 2017 comes along.
“In fact, Hoggy will probably be available for the next two, and Richie might be, too.”
Paterson watched all three games from the comfort of his own sofa, and he just about managed to juggle the demands of helping care for a new arrival to the family with keeping a keen eye on the rugby action.
“My second child, a little boy called Alex, was born three weeks ago so I managed to see all three Test matches even though it required a lot of pausing and fast-forwarding. So it was perhaps a bit more disjointed than I would have liked but I did see enough to recognise that the Lions played a pretty basic game-plan exceptionally well in the Third Test,” he said.
“Personally, I’d like to have seen the backs more involved,” he continued. “There were a lot of forwards at first receiver which shows their great skill levels, but I think Jonny Sexton is an amazing player and I’d liked to have seen him have more opportunity to dictate the game. Because he was rarely at first receiver, that meant we didn’t see George North and Tommy Bowe get onto the ball and really cause some damage.
“But the proof is in the pudding, and they got the result they needed.”
If Paterson was slightly disappointed that the Lions game-plan did not deliver the sort of entertainment that he believes the backline was capable of, he did take great delight in watching his old rival and friend Leigh Halfpenny’s astonishing kicking achievements with the boot throughout the tour.
“I think he has taken it to a new level. He’s a lovely bloke, a really hard worker and an absolute gentleman, so I was delighted to see him do so well. What was really great is that he is almost taking it back to the good old days when you put the ball down, stepped back, then banged it through the middle,” said Paterson, who kicked an impressive 699 points of his own during his long and distinguished 109-cap international career with Scotland.
“The one Leigh missed at the end of the Second Test you can’t criticise him at all for, because it was a one in a million shot given how far out it was and the stage of the game,” he added.
“If someone had taken a quick tap and gone initially it would have been a better decision, but once the ball was down he had to go for it. He is a long kicker but I think it would have had to have the wind behind him. Could he have said no? I doubt it. Once his skipper had asked him to have a go he just had to give it everything and that’s probably why he didn’t make quite as good a connection as expected.”