He is not quite in the same bad luck class as Simon Taylor, the best No 8 we have had in the professional era, whose two Lions tours were over almost before they had begun.
As a Lions full-back he is the latest in a distinguished line of Scots: Angus Cameron, Ken Scotland, Stewart Wilson, Andy Irvine, Bruce Hay, Gavin Hastings; quite a lot to live up to. Peter Dods was also a Lion, in 1989, but didn’t play in a Test, while Chris Paterson should have been one but wasn’t.
Ali Price’s selection at scrum-half has surprised some, but not me. He has a few predecessors too: Gus Black in 1950, then, rather surprisingly Gordon Connell in South Africa in 1968. I say “rather surpisingly”, because he won only five Scotland caps, but called up as a replacement, played in the fourth Test. Dougie Morgan played two Tests in New Zealand in 1977, good going on a tour dominated by Welshmen, and Roy Laidlaw played all four Tests in 1983. Following Roy, Gary Armstrong was a second Test scrum-half from Jed-Forest in 1989. Since then Andy Nicol, Chris Cusiter, Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw have all been Lions, though none started a Test. So Ali Price is the first to do so since Gary Armstrong.
The other Scotland starter today is Duhan van der Merwe, but fewer Scots have started a Lions Test on the wing than one might expect. The great Arthur Smith captained the Lions in South Africa in 1962, having been previously on the 1955 tour when he broke an arm and been unavailable for New Zealand in 1959. Sandy Hinshelwood was a Lion in New Zealand and South Africa in the Sixties, scoring a try against the All Blacks, as did Roger Baird in 1983 when he played in all four Tests. Langholm’s Billy Steele was a Lion in 1974, but didn’t play in a Test. Tony Stanger was called up as a replacement for Ieuan Evans in South Africa in 1997 and played in one Test.
Since props forwards are always replaced early in the second half these days, Rory Sutherland will surely leave the bench to join an illustrious line of Scottish looseheads: Hugh McLeod, David Rollo, Ian McLauchlan, David Sole, Tom Smith. You could hardly get a more distinguished quintet from any Lions country; something for Sutherland to live up to.
Likewise Hamish Watson, who many of us think should be starting today, but is all but certain to come on, has some great flankers to emulate, starting with Jim Greenwood who played all four Tests (scoring two tries) in South Africa in 1955 and was followed by Kelso’s Ken Smith 1959, Roger Arneil (1968 and 1971) , Finlay Calder and Derek White (both 1989). John Jeffrey was also a Lion on that tour, but didn’t play in a Test. Somewhat bizarrely, two flankers who would be strong candidates for a Scotland team from the second half of the 20th century - Douglas Elliot and David Leslie – were never Lions, Elliot because he couldn’t be away from the family farm for the six months of the long tour of 1950 and Leslie partly because of untimely injuries, partly because of .. …I don’t know what. Selectorial stupidity, perhaps.
Then of course there is Jim Telfer, a Lion of Lions as player and coach. I can’t off-hand recall whether he played on the flank or at No 8 in New Zealand in 1964 and South Africa four years later.
Dwelling on memories of the past is an agreeable way of getting in the mood for this afternoon’s match. It looks as if the Lions are intending to make it a fast game, and this would seem to give them their best chance of winning. Though it seems that Warren Gatland has picked a team based more on current form than on reputation or past experience, neither team can, given the circumstances and uncertainties, be as thoroughly prepared as either coach would wish.
Edginess is evident in the Lions’ objection to the last minute appointment of the South African Marius Jonker as TMO when the appointed New Zealand official was prevented by Covid restrictions from travelling. Perhaps the best thing would be for Australian referee Nic Berry to consult the TMO as seldom as possible and rely more on his touchline assistants, Ben O’Keeffe from New Zealand and France’s Mathieu Raynal. Too much time is usually spent in conversation with TMOs anyway.