A generation of Scots may feel little affinity with the brand, writes RW's Alan Dymock
Rugby Rant: Scots cannot be afterthought for Lions
For a number of Scots my age or younger, success for the British & Irish Lions over the last few outings has felt a bit like a party you’ve watched through a window. You have borne witness to some marvels but you still feel like an outsider.
I was ten when the Lions were in South Africa in 1997. That tour was a milestone for so many reasons – the first pro tour, manner of victory and style of play, the fly-on-the-wall documentary that has not been surpassed. But for Scots it was meaningful representation. It felt like Scottishness was a big part of it.
There is no ignoring the low standards of Scottish play as rugby ploughed through the Noughties and first half of the next decade, and in tours then only a few token spots came for players who’d never be considered for Lions Tests (Tom Smith aside). It still rankles that in 2005 Clive Woodward’s bloated group still had just one Scottish coach and 50-50 selection calls favoured bolters from further south.
Consider the word ‘meaningful’ above. Scots do not want to feel like glorified mascots. It would mean a lot for future tours if there are coaches with intimate knowledge of Scottish players, their personalities, training traits. If few still make it, we know they’re highly valued.
“You need Scottish accents in the support staff and trust in the Scots you do pick”
The 2009 tour looked special as Ian McGeechan came back and brought the Wasps coaching band together again. There was still Dr James Robson and a couple of Scottish players. But by then, younger Scottish fans – many of my generation, who have no memory of glories or stories from the amateur era – were not being won over. They needed more than the wee nod.
It’s about faith too. Warren Gatland likes Stuart Hogg, it’s clear. But in 2013 when he wanted the then 21-year-old full-back to play at ten, there was no Scottish figure beyond tour manager Andy Irvine who could query whether the team would get the best out of him in that position.
“Oh, so you want ten Scots players in, then?” Nah. But an assistant who has worked with Scottish players is vital, you need Scottish accents in the support staff and trust in the Scots you do pick.
After years of the blue quarter of the badge shrinking, let a younger generation see that however many tour, the Scots are a much-needed part of the shindig.
This piece first appeared in Rugby World magazine in June.
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