Luck and the Lions haven’t always gone well for Scots. An injury kept Stuart Hogg out of the Test side four years ago. Simon Taylor, selected for two Lions tours, was injured early in both and so never played a Lions Test. Doddie Weir’s Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 was likewise ended before the Tests when he was the victim of a very nasty foul. Colin Deans didn’t play in a Test in New Zealand in 1983 because the tour captain, Ciaran Fitzgerald, was also a hooker, and refused to give way to Deans even though he himself was playing badly. The Lions lost that series 4-0. Deans was actually named as captain for the next Lions tour, but that was to South Africa in the last years of apartheid and was cancelled.
Still, rather than dwelling on hard luck stories or chewing sour grapes, it seems suitable, a few days before Gatland names this summer’s Lions squad, to highlight a few of the Scots who have shone in Lions Tests. There are, happily too many to give space to all; apologies therefore to anyone whose favourites have been omitted.
Full backs: Angus Cameron (1955), Ken Scotland (1959), Stewart Wilson (1965), Andy Irvine (1974 and ’77), though he played some Tests on the wing, with the great Welshman JPR Williams at 15; Gavin Hastings (1989 and ’93, when he was also captain). Of these Ken Scotland, who also played one Test at centre, arguably made the biggest impression, attracting rave notices from the New Zealand press as he “floated like summer down through defences”.
Wings: Arthur Smith, captain in 1962, most graceful of wingers; Billy Steele (1974), Roger Baird (1983), Alan Tait (1997).
Centres: Jock Turner (1968), Jim Renwick (1980), John Rutherford (1983), out of position because Ollie Campbell was preferred at 10, being the team’s goal-kicker; Scott Hastings (1989, 1993).
Fly-halves: Gordon Waddell (1962), Craig Chalmers (1989), Gregor Townsend (1997).
Scrum-halves: Gus Black (1950), Roy Laidlaw (1983), Gary Armstrong (1989), Chris Cusiter (2005), as a substitute in a pre-New Zealand Test against Argentina.
Props: Hugh McLeod (1959), Ian McLauchlan (1971), David Sole (1989), Tom Smith (1997, 2001).
Hookers: Frank Laidlaw (1966, 1968) Gordon Bulloch (2001).
Locks: Mike Campbell-Lamerton (1966), Peter Stagg (1968), Gordon Brown (1974, 1977).
Flankers: Jim Greenwood (1955), Ken Smith (1959), Roger Arneil (1968), Finlay Calder (1989), Rob Wainwright (1997).
Number 8s: Jim Telfer (1965), Ian Paxton (1983).
I’m sure that I’ve omitted a few, but you could select a very fine XV from this list, even if candidates from the last 20 years are sadly thin on the ground. You could also of course select a strong team from Scots who were Lions, but didn’t play in a Test, even if you don’t draw on those called up for fleeting appearances by Gatland in 2017 merely because they happened to be with Scotland in the South Pacific. Such a team might include backs such as Alastair Biggar, Chris Rea, Alan Lawson, Peter Dods, Tony Stanger, Mike Blair and forwards like Ernie Michie, David Rollo, Derrick Grant, Sandy Carmichael, Iain Milne, Colin Deans, John Beattie, Alan Tomes, John Jeffrey, Scott Murray, Nathan Hines, Euan Murray, Ross Ford. Add those already mentioned whose Lions tours were ended, like Carmichael’s indeed, early by injury – Stuart Hogg, Simon Taylor - and you have the makings of a formidable XV.
Then there have been outstanding Scotland internationals who were never selected for a Lions squad but should have been, including backs such as Chris Paterson, Keith Robertson, David Johnston, Alex Dunbar, Iwan Tukalo, David Chisholm and Alex Hastie; and forwards such as Alasdair Dickinson, Alastair McHarg, Peter (PC) Brown, Jason White, David Leslie, John Barclay.
In some cases – David Johnston’s for example, a Lions tour didn’t coincide with his best years, but some of the omissions might be called outrageous or simply absurd. That McHarg, Leslie, and Chris Paterson were never Lions passes belief. These were grotesque omissions.
Actually the greatest Scottish player of my lifetime never to be a Lion was Douglas Elliot. But he was at least invited to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1950. The Lions travelled by sea then, and he couldn’t afford five or six months away from the farm. He did offer to fly out at his own expense and join the tour when it moved on to New Zealand. But his offer was rejected.