Given the rather protracted downturn in fortunes of the Scottish rugger team, in the last two Lions squads Jocks have been pretty thin on the ground. In 2005, of the 51 players who went out at any point (51!), just four were Scottish, and of the 46 2009 Lions, there were once again just four Scots, with two of those (Ross Ford and Mike Blair) late replacements for injured Liginds (Jirry and Tomás O’Leary).
This time round, it looks like the Scots might do a little better than four – while the team isn’t tearing up any trees, some individual performances are good:
- Ross Ford: there isn’t any hooker making an undeniable claim for a shirt – Ford is good in the loose, offloads well, and offers something a little different
- Ryan Grant: Loosehead is very competitive, but Grant has played his part in a solid Scottish set-piece, while his defence has been excellent
- Euan Murray: ARE THERE ANY TESTS ON A SUNDAY??
- Richie Gray: the blonde bomber hasn’t been as prominent as he was last year, but, as modern mobile locks go, he’s pretty much the best available
- Nathan Hines: Hines isn’t playing for Scotland since retiring a year ago, but he’s been hugely prominent for Clermont Auvergne as they tear it up in the HEC – Australia must be wondering how he slipped through the cracks
- Johnnie Beattie: carrying well, and the standard of play in the Top14 seems to have benefitted him. Number eight is competitive, but nobody’s hooting the lights out, so he’s in the mix
- Wee Greig Laidlaw: No, really! Laidlaw is the best kicking scrummie, although he offers zero breaking threat. He can play outside as well and versatility is a plus on attritional tours
- Sean Maitland: has a touch of Kiwi class about him, a really intelligent player with excellent defence. There aren’t many wings demanding a shirt, and Maitland is as likely as any to go
- Tim Visser: scores tries for fun at Pro12 level and continues to impress at international level, in attack more so than defence. Like Maitland, he is in the mix because the wing situation is so fluid with Bowe out and Ashton playing like a bag of nails
- Stuart Hogg: pretty much inked in to tour, if you believe Inverdale. He’s certainly the form pick at the moment, but Rob Kearney, Leigh Halfpenny, Ben Foden and Alex Goode could yet have their say
- Graeme Morrison: boshing inside centres are in fashion these days, and if Brad Barritt gets injured … nah, we’re only messing!
In truth a lot of those look more possible than probable, and even then the more likely lads have a midweek look about them. We have Gray pencilled in provided he recovers from injury and Stuart Hogg looks made for the hard Antipodean grounds. Ford could be the odd man out at hooker, placed on standby for the second tour in a row (last time he made it out and started the third test). His fate could depend on what sort of view Gatland takes of Dylan Hartley. We think at least one of Maitland or Visser will sneak on to the plane, where there is suddenly a shortage of form players. Laidlaw and Beattie will be close, but neither is a sure thing. Sundays or otherwise, Murray’s star has waned and Ryan Grant, again, looks more likely to be on standby than getting picked in the first draft.
The most interesting one is Nathan Hines. There are no tighthead locks who offer his imperious combination of regal handling skills and grunt in the tight. He reneged on his Top 14 commitments last time to go on the tour, but appears to feel he has unfinished business in that regard, so may not do so again.