Borderers Gregor Townsend and Stuart Hogg expecting Scotland rugby team’s roar power to lead to Lions call-ups
Scotland rugby head coach Gregor Townsend and captain Stuart Hogg believe their team’s performance at this year’s Six Nations ought to have put several of their countrymen in the frame for places on the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa in the summer.
The Scots kicked off and ended their 2021 Six Nations campaign in style against England and France in London and Paris respectively, racking up a record victory against Italy in Edinburgh in between, though home defeats to Wales and Ireland ultimately forced them to settle for fourth place in the tournament table.
The Dark Blues haven’t claimed all that many of the Lions’ red shirts over recent years, but former Gala and Border Reivers star Townsend is expecting that to change when head coach Warren Gatland names his squad early next month.
“Going into the France game, we felt we were the two best teams,” said the 47-year-old.
“In attack and defence stats, we were first and second with France in most of the categories, so if you are looking at stats, then our players are as good as any out there in the championship.
“If you are looking at wins, to win in France and win in London, no team has done that during the last two years, but our teams have.
“If you are going to look at playing one of the best teams in the world in South Africa, our players have won out there, whether it is with crowds or not, so you’ve got to then say that the players have put themselves in position to be on that tour.
“There will be a few head-to-heads for selection, no doubt, but I felt in France, in the Twickenham game and even the Wales game, when we played well for a lot of the match, our players have put their hands up, and now it will just go down to selection.
"The players have put themselves in a position to be on that tour. Our players have put their hands up.
“I’m sure we’ve made it much tougher than what happened four years ago and four years before that."
Scots tipped to be in contention for places in this year’s Lions squad include ex-Hawick heroes Hogg and Rory Sutherland, plus Duhan van der Merwe, Chris Harris, Finn Russell, Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie.
If, as expected, Hogg gets an invitation from Gatland, it would be his third Lions tour on the trot, although he has yet to make it into a test team.
The Borderer had looked set to make that breakthrough last time round after appearing in two warm-up games, against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians and the Crusaders, but a facial injury robbed him of the chance, forcing him to head home before any tests were played.
That followed five appearances on 2013’s tour of Australia, four of them starts, one of them at fly-half, a position the full-back had a crack at for Scotland for the first time during this year’s Six Nations.
The 28-year-old, capped 85 times for Scotland, told BBC Sport's rugby union weekly podcast: “A result at Twickenham and in Paris are massive for us because I'm led to believe they're looking at away records and the fact that we haven't backed up what we said we were going to do in previous years.
“I'd like to think there will be more than two Scots. I'd love to see as many Scottish boys on that tour as possible.
“We've played some good rugby individually and collectively.
“It’s all in the hands of Gatland and the rest of the coaches, so fingers crossed.”
Among the Scottish team-mates the Exeter Chiefs star would hope to see boarding the flight to South Africa would be Hamish Watson.
“He's been one of our best players for a number of years, but I think in this Six Nations he has really come into his own,” said Hogg.
“He hardly missed a tackle. His workrate is not only in games. During the week, he really drives standards. He gets the best out of his body.
“He’s a real professional and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“He has been phenomenal for a number of years now, and this Six Nations has put him up there with the best sevens definitely in Britain, if not the world."
Scots, however, haven’t figured too largely in the squads picked by New Zealander Gatland, head coach for the last two Lions tours and assistant head coach for the one before, in 2009, and he’s never named more than three in any of his initial squads, though he has called in others as cover later on.
The last Scottish player to turn out in a test match for the Lions was Richie Gray back in 2013, as a 67th-minute replacement against Australia.
Only two Scotsmen, Hogg and Tommy Seymour, were named in the original squad for the 2017 tour, though Russell was later drafted in, along with Alan Dell and Jedburgh’s Greig Laidlaw.
Laidlaw, 35, a replacement for England’s Ben Youngs, was a late call-up in 2017 and didn’t make any test appearances.
He did help the tourists to victory in warm-up games against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, Chiefs and Hurricanes, getting over four hours’ game-time altogether as well as the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Roy Laidlaw, a Lion in 1983.
Hogg and Gray were accompanied by Sean Maitland in 2013, with Ryan Grant joining the touring party later as a replacement for Welshman Gethin Jenkins.