Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expects to lose some of his summer touring squad to the British and Irish Lions and has been informed by Warren Gatland the players in the frame to be drafted in should there be injuries in New Zealand.
The Scots fly out on Saturday for their three Tests against Italy in Singapore, Australia in Sydney and Fiji in Suva, with the Lions having flown out on Monday.
Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Greig Laidlaw were the only three Scots on the Lions plane but Townsend reckons that could well increase over the course of the next month or so.
“Yeah, I spoke to Warren on the phone and got feedback on players who missed out on selection,” said Townsend in St Andrews yesterday, where the Scotland squad are making their final preparations before embarking on their Asia-Pacific odyssey.
“He told me which guys were close to selection and how things would work on tour if there were call-ups. It was a very positive discussion. I have a good idea the players who are in the frame.”
Stand-off Finn Russell, lock Jonny Gray, flanker Hamish Watson and utility back Duncan Taylor could be some names sitting high on the standby list, with John Barclay another who has been mentioned in dispatches.
The tour skipper joined up with the squad on Monday after captaining Scarlets to a famous Guinness Pro12 final win over Munster in Dublin at the weekend. Barclay has stepped up to fill in for Laidlaw, as he did when the scrum-half was injured during the Six Nations.
Townsend insisted any Lions call for Barclay would be viewed with nothing but positivity from the Scotland camp.
“It would be great. We would be keen for John to play [for us] and be available but, if he goes to the Lions, he will go with our blessing, just like Greig who got called up a couple of weeks ago,” said the coach at the Old Course Hotel. “It would be great end of the season for John. He has come back into camp really wanting to train and he trained this morning and this afternoon.
“He is really keen to be involved, three days after winning the Pro12 trophy. It is really positive he wants to be out there.
“If things change for John or anybody else, it will be great news that somebody gets that Lions experience.”
Tighthead prop WP Nel was someone being heavily tipped as a Lions Test starter before neck problems wrecked his season. He returned for the Barbarians against England on Sunday – his first outing since January and only second appearance in nine months – and Townsend said the prop’s outlook was looking a lot rosier after a troubling period.
“WP trained yesterday so that was pretty good.It was a great effort from him,” explained Townsend. “He got a lot of confidence from the [Barbarians] game. He played half an hour, he got some scrums, he carried ball, made a couple of tackles.
“Just playing again gave him that huge boost in confidence, He has trained really well the last two weeks.
“It is the first time myself and Dan McFarland have worked with WP. His mobility around the park and his willingness to work shone through plus, obviously, his scrummaging.
“It was great to have him there. Not only does it help the team when you have somebody with his ability, but it really helps the scrum sessions. Suddenly, there are Gordon Reid, Alex Allan and Allan Dell going up against WP and Zander [Fagerson] and D’Arcy Rae. It means everything goes up a notch.
“He definitely would be an option [against Italy]. Having that game now gives us confidence to know he is fit to play. Whether we decide he will be involved against Italy we will see in the next few days.”
Townsend hinted that young Edinburgh lock prospect Lewis Carmichael, who is currently on loan to Aussie Super Rugby outfit Western Force, could be called into a squad which now only has three specialist second rows following the loss to injury of Richie Gray, although Rob Harley can also move up from back row.
Townsend said the excitement was really building now with the departure just days away.
“The three places we are visiting are brilliant places to visit as a tourist, never mind as a rugby player,” he said.
“Not many will have visited Singapore, so this will be new. Our match will be the first rugby international to be played there, in an indoor stadium.
“Sydney is a brilliant city to visit and great place to play, while Fiji is a dream place for a rugby player to play. It’s a very different experience to normal everyday walk of life.
“So all three places are stimulating.”