Lions legend Ian McLauchlan has lambasted Warren Gatland after he named just two Scots in his squad to tour New Zealand this summer – accusing the coach of “not liking people from Scotland”.
Full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour were the only two Scottish players named in Gatland’s 41-man group and McLauchlan, the former Scotland prop who was a member of the only Lions team to beat the All Blacks in a Test series back in 1971, was far from impressed.
The squad also includes 16 Englishmen, 11 Irish and a remarkable 12 from Wales, the team Scotland beat 29-13 at home this year and finished ahead of in the Six Nations table.
“Gatland doesn’t exactly have a good track record in liking people from Scotland,” said McLauchlan. “He doesn’t come here, does he? And he doesn’t know the names of Scottish players – when he was asked on television whether there were any Scots in the running he said ‘there’s Hogg and the new boy at centre, and one of the wingers looked quite good’. He couldn’t name them. He only knows Stuart Hogg.”
The low number had been expected but there was still a palpable sense of disappointment yesterday that a Scotland team which has shown vast improvement in the last couple of years under Vern Cotter has gained such scant recognition. The selection of two in the initial squad is one fewer than 2013, equals that of 2009 and was only smaller when just one made the 1930 trip to New Zealand. It is the first time that no Scottish forward has been named since 1908, when the squad was made up entirely of Anglo-Welsh players.
There have been suggestions that the decisions by Gregor Townsend and Jason O’Halloran to reject the dubious honour of being assistant attack coach to Welshman Rob Howley may have cost some Scots in the final selection meetings, but McLauchlan reckons both were correct to knock back the Lions.
“Is it more important that Gregor coaches the Lions or Scotland? In my opinion there’s only one horse in that race and that’s Scotland,” said the 75-year-old. “As for Jason O’Halloran, he’s got another job [at Glasgow]. I think he was probably right to turn it down because he was an afterthought by Gatland, and as a Kiwi, the same as Gatland, he [O’Halloran] probably knew exactly how much input he’d have, which would be nil.”
McLauchlan, who made eight Test appearances for the legendary Lions of 1971 and 1974, retains a passionate support for the concept of the British and Irish select, however, and did express some sympathy with the coaching team over the selection process.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think [only two Scots] is that unexpected. But I thought we might have snuck another couple in – just even politically it would have been quite nice to get a couple in.
“But selection by one person is always quite difficult. By a smaller group it is difficult, because they’ll pick players that they trust, that they know.
“To be honest with you, it’s a big occasion for the coaching team as well. They have to be sure of what they’re getting, and they’re not going to take an unnecessary risk with some player just because he’s Scottish or whatever.”
It was joy unbounded for Hogg and Seymour, however, and the latter said: “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m a bit speechless. Amazing feeling. A really proud moment for my family. It’s special.”
Wales flanker Sam Warburton was confirmed as captain for the second successive time after leading the Lions to a 2-1 win in Australia four years ago. As rumoured, a number of high-profile members of the back-to-back Six Nations-winning England side have been omitted, including skipper Dylan Hartley, stand-off George Ford and lock Joe Launchbury, though centre Jonathan Joseph does make it.
Gatland said: “There’s been healthy debate about the squad and now that it’s been announced we need to get behind it 100 per cent and get excited about travelling to New Zealand.
“There’s competition for places and that’s what makes us pretty excited but we know how tough it will be – this is the toughest tour.”