Two years ago as Scotland were heading towards a resounding win under Vern Cotter over Wales in the Six Nations at BT Murrayfield the big screen camera focused in on a certain Warren Gatland. The jeers were almost as loud as the cheers for the Scottish tries that day.
Gatland was on sabbatical from the Welsh job, focusing on the Lions series in New Zealand later that year which ended in a notable Test series draw. After winning in Australia in 2013, the New Zealander will now aim to be the first man to lead the British and Irish Lions to three successive unbeaten series after being confirmed, as widely expected, as the man to lead the combined Home Unions select to South Africa in 2021 after he steers Wales through this year’s World Cup in Japan.
Those pantomime boos at Murrayfield two years ago were an expression of frustration that Scotland seem to have been excluded from the Lions party for some time. In Gatland’s two tours in charge the only Scot to be exposed to Test action was Richie Gray, and even that was brief cameo off the bench in the final Test against Australia in 2013.
That poor return pre-dates the Kiwi, who has famously never lost to Scotland in over a decade as Wales coach – Rob Howley was filling in when Cotter’s side scored that 29-13 success in 2017. You have to go back to 2001 and prop Tom Smith for the last time a Scot started a Lions Test match.
It is no secret that Scotland failed to keep pace with the advent of professionalism but there was bad feeling two years ago when only Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour made the initial Lions selection. Ian McLauchlan, the great former Scotland captain and Lions legend of 1971 and 1974, accused Gatland of “not liking people from Scotland”.
Greig Laidlaw replaced Ben Youngs due to family health issues before the squad departed but no Scot featured in the drawn Test series. Hogg’s tour was ended by injury, Seymour was top try scorer overall and Finn Russell and Allan Dell were given brief midweek cameos.
There may have been a few Scottish eyes rolling when it emerged that Gatland was going to be getting the gig yet again, although it has to be said that Scotland’s disconnect with the Lions brand has been brewing for some time.
The whole concept is a coming together of the Home Unions and there is a justified feeling that Scottish players haven’t been given enough chances. That said, these chances have to be earned and charity picks would not be welcomed.
Two years ago a number of Scotland players were being touted but a 60-point hiding at Twickenham and Glasgow’s European quarter-final flop at Saracens didn’t do help their cause. If the quota is to be upped in two years’ time the Scottish candidates need to prove they can perform consistently in top-level games, not just show flashes of promise.
As Scotland great and former Lion Scott Hastings told the BBC: “The reason he [Gatland] has not picked Scotland players is that they have not delivered.
“They have not performed on a consistent enough basis to merit selection.
“The last time we saw the desired level of intensity was in the second 40 minutes against England. If Scotland can reach those intensities, then Scotland will have players on the Lions tour.”