The last time there was eight Scottish players on a British and Irish Lions tour, Sky hadn’t been set up, Margret Thatcher was still Prime Minister and Stuart Hogg wasn’t even born.
In 2021, eight Scotland players will venture down to South Africa to take on the World Champions alongside eight Irishmen, 11 Englishmen and ten Welshmen.
One of the eight from that 1989 tour was Scott Hastings. Hastings played on two tours, in 1989 and 1993. His first tour saw him play an integral part in the Lions victory against Australia in 1989.
Scotland’s role within The Lions in 2021
Scotland have a huge part to play in the history of the British and Irish Lions. Names such as Sir Ian McGeechan and Scott’s Brother, Gavin have a secure place inside the Lions history book.
However, tours since 1989 have seen Scottish participation dwindle within in the Lions.
In 2017, no Scottish player made the test team despite finishing above Wales in that years Six Nations.
The year in question also saw former Scotland player, Gregor Townsend come in as coach of the Scottish national side and whilst their form has been very much like a rollercoaster under Townsend, new talent has been bludgeoned. So much so that, in early 2021,Scotland beat England and France away from home for the first time in Six Nations history.
Victories over the English and French sees star players such as Hogg, Hamish Watson, Duhan Van Der Merwe and Finn Russell all picked with Hogg one of the contenders for captaincy before it was handed to Alun Wyn Jones.
Townsend wrote himself into Lions immortality in 1997 when playing on the victorious tour to South Africa. He was named assistant coach to Warren Gatland earlier in April along with Steve Tandy, Scotland’s defence coach.
“What it’s given Scottish Rugby is a huge boost for it supporters and stakeholders, but it is a reflection of how well the team actually played during the Six Nations.” Hastings said
“I think shown within the character of the team was the ability to meet other packs and improve a wider game plan that has been at the heart of Gregor Townsend’s strategy and with that winning mentality, it kind of forced Warren Gatland’s hand to select the Scots that certainly were in form and undoubtedly throughout the whole squad announcement there were a few surprises but at the end of the day, the Scots put themselves onto that discussion table.” Hastings added.
“It’s a very balanced squad, he’s picked players on form and the fact that the Scots have a form of equal representation, I think its makes for a harmonious squad supported by all of the supporters.”
And whilst Scotland may have had the success in this year’s Six Nations, Hastings feels that Scotland need to maintain a level of consistency if they want further participation on future tours and more success domestically and globally..
“They (Scotland) have to realise just because they’ve had success in one Six Nations tournament, it doesn’t mean you can dine at the top table, there has to be a level of consistency in performance and undoubtedly Scotland have found it tough over the past dozen years.
So the foundations have been laid and with a World Cup in 2023 and after the disappointment of being knocked out of the pool stages in 2019 and lot of the players will still be around in two years time to make an impact.”
The lack of Scottish participation
On Lions tours in the 21st Century, the Scots have seen some of their most iconic players miss out on selection.
Hastings pinpoints why so many of the great Scottish players have missed out for the Lions.
“One thing is a consistency in performance, delivering at the highest level, man of the match, winning performances and I think Scotland just haven’t done that in the run up to previous tours, the quality of play in that leadership but also the simple fact is to select a squad of 37 out of the four home unions is a devilishly difficult task and unless your’re playing to the top of your game week in week out, other players are going to be considered.
“It’s proven The Lions over the past couple of test series with squads have shown with the fact they performed really well of course, a winning series in Australia and a drawn series in New Zealand.”
There are many names that come to mind when thinking about the great Scottish players who have not played in the Lions.
One of the examples that Hastings gave was Chris Paterson. Paterson made his Scotland debut in 1999 and over his career, he was able to maintain a level of consistency within his performance that saw him capped 109 times for Scotland whilst scoring 809 international points in the process.
However, whilst many thought of Paterson as a sure banker to go on a Lions tour, he was never selected for tours in 2001, 2005 and 2009. He retired soon after the 2011 Rugby World Cup when Scotland exited the group stage.
If there was ever an XV of great players to miss out on Lions selection over many different tours, his name will surely first come to mind.
Then there are other players that come to mind. Jason White was known as one of the most feared back rowers in the world and known for his superb tackling. Sean Lamont is another clear example and like Paterson was a Scottish centurion but Lions selectors favoured other players.
This time around, the selectors have picked the Scots that are on form and these players will almost certainly have the chance to impress Gatland when they step out onto the hallow turf of Murrayfield against Japan. Hastings sees no reason why the Scottish players should be given a run out against the Brave Blossoms later this month.
“Gatland will look for combinations. He will select Ali Price and Finn Russell, he will stick in Zander Fagerson, Rory Sutherland and Duhan Van Der Merwe.
“Why not give the Scots first shout at Murrayfield and the tour is underway but undoubtedly combinations and selections are important.”
The last days of amateurism and the beginning of professionalism
The 1993 tour to New Zealand wasn’t memorable for Hastings as he had to fly home early with a fractured cheekbone.
That was also the tour that represented the last days of amateurism of rugby. Hastings gives a sense of how rugby was changing around that period and why the game had to go professional especially after the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
“The 1995 Rugby World Cup was the birth of professionalism. At the time players were being paid so it forced the hand of World Rugby to open up the game and it was inevitable when your packing out stadiums across the world, television rights for World Cups were being sold to multiple broadcasters, it was only right for players to embark on and demand to be properly recompensed because at that time I had to take serious chunks out of my career, out with my employer.
“So the Lions were part of that idea. When you look at the Lions, the first professional tour was in 1997 to South Africa. The Living with the Lions video was amazing and ultimately that was the springboard to the brand that is currently the Lions and the passion that is there not only for the players but for the fans as well.”
However, over the past few years, World Rugby has made many changes to the global calendar and on the upcoming tour to South Africa, the Lions will only play eight games on the tour with the midweek games not happening during the test series.
“The only international team touring to play multiple games I.e midweek games, test matches is the British and Irish Lions. The tradition touring when the All Blacks would go down to Wales and Llanelli and Swansea and go across the Irish sea to play Munster, those days are over now. I’m a bit old school, I’m a bit of a corinthian, those experiences led me onto be the player I am.” Hastings commented.
“The total focus in international rugby at the moment, is all about rights, television sponsorship, commercialism and the midweek game perhaps can’t deliver the same reach to allow that income to come into the game. Having said that, I think the Lions needs to be part of that equation but undoubtedly as the game changes as we bounce back from the effects from covid and the pandemic, the global game has to work out for itself where it wants to go, there’ll be some healthy debate but unfortunately not everybody agrees on that path and the way forward so it’s a bit like ACAS, lets get round the table and sort it out.
“Agustin Pichot a few years ago had a go in trying to bring in a global season, it failed but there’s always opportunities out there and to some extent, less is more. We see sometimes teams playing 18-19 matches over a season and that dilutes international rugby and that puts a great deal of strain on the players and like anything in life, moderation, balance has to be seen. Money drives that desire to see more international games and we just have to wait and see how that pans out.”
The 2021 Lions tour will kick off at the home of Scottish Rugby against Japan and Hastings can see a future when playing other international sides that occurs in the lead up to a test tour against either South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.
“The Lions have played against other international teams like Fiji in 1977 when they went down to New Zealand. They played against Canada one year. We’ve seen the Lions play against Argentina, against France. I’m a great believer in the traditions in the game of rugby but you got to look at new opportunities against other countries like Japan.
“Isn’t it sad that Japan, who brought so much in 2019 have not played an international game since but what a lovely gesture to play against Japan at Murrayfield in June, that match will be very special for the Japanese players that are playing against the Lions but it goes to show there are new opportunities and so we shouldn’t be closeted or blinking in our opportunities that has to be South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.
“Those will be the tours that continue every four years but it maybe they play the odd game against Argentina, against a Canada/USA side and therefore that allows the Lions to reach new territories,to create new traditions so it will be interesting.”
The Lions know that this game against Japan will represent a chance to play against a nation they have never played before. And it heavily signifies that the Lions brand is being displayed to new territories. Whether they expand it to other countries like the USA is another question, but it represents a golden opportunity to showcase how special the Lions is.