Disenfranchised: what Warren Gatland’s selections mean for Scottish Rugby

For those of us north of the border, Scotland’s involvement – or lack thereof – with the hotly-contested British and Irish Lions tour of Australia is a touchy subject. As the team sheet was read out this morning for the third and final test match in Sydney, it became clear our hopes of a test Lion now rest solely on the sizeable shoulders of Richie Gray. This is an altogether familiar situation. For the past decade, our national team has been at best disappointing, and at worst atrocious. Our pro teams have only twice graced the latter stages of the Heineken Cup, and our structure from grass-roots up is light years behind those of the top-tier nations.

We’ve been inconsistent at the highest level, failed to capitalise on promising performances, and are perpetually labelled with the dreaded “gallant losers” tag. That we contributed at first only three tourists to the party shows just how poorly our game is thought of by those from the other home nations and beyond. Is our rugby really that bad? Or do we have cause to feel aggrieved?

Examining those three tourists, one – Sean Maitland – is a New Zealander, and would certainly never have been tempted by a move to Glasgow had he been in Graham Henry’s All Blacks plans. Richie Gray has been picked on reputation rather than current form, after a disappointing Six Nations curtailed by injury. Stuart Hogg, one of Scotland’s brightest young talents, has merited selection, but has been done a terrible disservice by being asked to play in a position he has not fulfilled since schoolboy level. This was exacerbated against the ACT Brumbies, where Hogg’s backline was made up almost exclusively of fresh call-ups whom he was barely able to train with, and had certainly never played alongside. The startling lack of cohesion between the Scot and those outside him went some way to deciding the outcome of that particular clash.

The one Scottish call-up, prop Ryan Grant, should frankly have made the original touring party after an excellent start to his international career, and two consistently impressive seasons with Glasgow Warriors. Ironically, this time last year, he was turning in his best international showing to date in a victory over Australia last summer, where the Scottish front row gave their opponents a torrid time. He is frequently among the top tacklers in the national team and chips in with an impressive number of assists for the Warriors. He even managed to cross the try line twice in a thumping victory over the Ospreys last season – a game in which he got the better of his much-lauded Lions colleague Adam Jones in the scrum. Very few looseheads in world rugby can boast that particular feat on their CV. Indeed, Grant has yet to be embarrassed by any of the big-name tightheads he has come up against for club and country; a list that includes, among others, Jones, Ben Franks, Jannie Du Plessis and Mike Ross.

That he was initially ignored again at the expense of Alex Corbisiero, who has barely played a game all season, was extremely disappointing – although Corbisiero has since more than justified his selction with his performances Down Under. That he was left as an unused substitute last week while Mako Vunipola floundered in the scrum – an area pinpointed as one of Grant’s key strengths – and then tired in the loose was questionable to most. In an era where the full repertoire of front-row replacements are invariably utilised, the decision to leave Grant sitting on his bahookie (backside in Scottish, for the uninitiated) was indicative of the lack of faith Warren Gatland and Graham Rowntree are willing to place in the Scottish contingent. Those south of the border and beyond who, rightly or wrongly, may be largely ignorant of the Fifer’s abilities can be excused. An international coaching team certainly cannot.

The likes of Euan Murray, Jim Hamilton and Greig Laidlaw may also be justly disappointed at their exclusion from the touring party. Gatland’s selection of the retired Matt Stevens ahead of Murray was particularly surprising, and sends a terrible message to those who missed out. With the lineout misfiring terribly in Melbourne, the scrum at times struggling, and the Lions desperately seeking some go-forward with ball in hand, Hamilton’s impressive Six Nations performances obviously went unnoticed.

The Kiwi also chose to call up Englishman Christian Wade, who had barely made his test debut, ahead of the likes of Tim Visser who has been prolific since signing for Edinburgh, and is beginning to show his finishing prowess on the international stage. Youngster Matt Scott, the standout performer in his country’s tour of South Africa, was overlooked at the expense of the inexperienced Billy Twelvetrees, and the stodgy Brad Barritt. These three, fresh off the plane for the Brumbies defeat alongside the retired Shane Williams were unsurprisingly unable to form any sort of structured attacking combination with Hogg.

The Lions, of course, despite the four-union makeup, are an outfit selected entirely on merit. Rightly so, and Scottish rugby has not – as we are fond of saying north of the border – set the proverbial heather alight of late. However, Gatland’s startling ignorance of our potential offerings, made all the more glaring given how the first two test-matches have played out, only serves to remind us of the low esteem our game is held in by the rest of the rugby community.

As we approach the end of a tour that, for Scottish rugby, has been a tiresome, drawn-out kick in the teeth, it is left to Scott Johnson’s men to respond in kind the only way they can: by showing on the pitch next season just what Gatland, his unfounded call-ups, selections and false perceptions missed out on.

By Jamie Lyall

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

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92 comments on “Disenfranchised: what Warren Gatland’s selections mean for Scottish Rugby

  1. Jim Hamilton is, in my opinion, the player hardest done-by in the inital selection, once you overlook Rory Best, who’s been with them the entire tour anyway (Paul James is the other name I feel has really been overlooked harshly). He’s outstanding in the lineout, as good on his own ball as Parling and better at stealing the oppositions than anyone we could have selected and has all that pent-up aggression going for him. He’d've ben perfect for the gameplan and style of rugby Gatland likes to play.

    I’d also have taken Laidlaw, but do understand not doing so, although selecting Connor Murray over him is something of a mystery. Likewise, Visser is an excellent club player, but I’m not sure he’s going to do it at international level. Kelly Brown is unlucky he’s got so much competition, while Ross Rennie would’ve been my choice as a call-up if Warburton or Tipuric got injured.

    I think the Scots are within their rights to feel hard done by, but then so are all the nations, perhaps except England, who have been over-represented, especially when we factor in call-ups.

  2. Peter ballantyne July 5, 2013 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    I do not know where to begin with Gatland and this very poor Lions team.lets start with BOD
    It seems to me that BOD is paying the price for poor selection in the centre,Gatland having chosen three outside centres and one inside.Did it not occur to him that if Roberts got injured his midfield
    Would misfire?Matt Scott should have gone on the tour in place of Davies or Tuilagi.
    It was Davies that missed the tackle on AAC.
    Ryan Grant should have been on the plane in the first instance.
    10 Welsh for tomorrow’s match is a disgrace and Andy Irvine should take some stick over this allowing Gatland to destroy the Loins.
    I have been following them since 1959 and for the first time I hope they get stuffed tomorrow.
    Come on australia

    • Peter, I’d love to give you a detailed reply but a lot previous comments have already been over this so I just have to say that your stance of now supporting the Aussies, throwing your toys out of pram because you so not have the team you want, is pathetic.

    • Peter, three very easy responses to your points of view;

      Firstly, I am not sure that it is Andy Irvine’s responsibility to advise the coaching staff who they should pick. Whilst I do not agree with the team picked, I do vehemently agree that it is the coaches who should pick it, and that the head coach should have the final say.

      Secondly, and I have noted this on another thread, Davies’s miss on Ashley-Cooper was a a result of poor communication with O’Driscoll and to suggest that with Scott in the side this would not have happened is ludicrous.

      Lastly, I strongly believe that Murray and Youngs should be the two scrum halves in the 23, and that O’Driscoll should start outside Roberts. But would I ever suggest that I hope the Lions get stuffed because this is not the case??? How ridiculous…….

    • “Grant should have been on the plane”.

      Which prop, selected ahead of Grant, has he outperformed on this tour?

      “Matt Scott should have gone on the tour in place of Davies or Tuilagi”.

      I can see a good argument for taking a 5th centre (36 or Scott both decent options), but to pick Scott ahead of someone like Tuilagi, who has a strike rate Scott can only fantasise about, would have been a travesty.

      Note also though that Matt Scott had an abomination against Samoa, this is probably why Barritt and 36 were both called up ahead of him.

      Sure the last test in particular was hardly a thing of beauty, but I don’t think that was primarily down to selection or gameplan. It was down to tension and pressure. NZ, purveyors of the best brand of rugby, won a world cup final ‘ugly’. When the pressure comes and the stakes are at their highest that’s often the case. Henry didn’t get blasted for the ugly manor of the win and accused of betraying the values of All Black rugby, he got knighted. Much has been made of the importance of getting a series win, it’s probably going to be another 8 years before we even get half a chance, so for the Lions to stay relevant I’ll take the ugliest win in the history of the game over a beautiful defeat.

      If you are supporting Australia tomorrow I wish you a thoroughly miserable day (though I hope you have a change of heart)!

    • “have been following them since 1959 and for the first time I hope they get stuffed tomorrow” Peter how sad is it that so many of us agree with you. I personally feel as though a British institution has been stolen and sullied by Gatland.

      I think so many players can feel aggrieved at not being on the tour, but with such a limited game plan that doesn’t require ingenuity or guile maybe they wouldn’t want to be part of it.

      • I don’t think it is sad at all. We’ve found who the self centred fair weather fans are. We’ve found out for whom it is more important that the Lions do exactly what they want than it is for the Lions to win and be led with integrity, so we’ve found the sort of useless casual sports can that we can’t be bothered with. Weve found the sort of people who have an upper threshold for thw amount of welshmen they are willing to tolerate. Please, support Aus with all of your might, it says more about who you are than it does about The Lions.

        News flash : The Lions isn’t about you and our demands to be heard and acknowledged. You don’t matter a jot once you’ve crossed the line to not being a fan.

        Lions all the way, whoever, whenever, whatever.

        I was annoyed in 2005, not supporting them though was never in my thoughts.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Gatland has destroyed the ethos of the tour with all the things that you have mentioned, but also by flying in Shane Williams for a game and taking Tom Court off holidays to be in the squad. Those 2, whilst capable guys were not the next in line in their positions and that makes a mockery of the guys who worked hard all season and were left at home.
      Gatland is clearly a good coach but a rubbish selector.
      He still doesn’t know what his strongest line up is and has been “experimenting” after test 1 and 2 (despite weeks of warm up games)
      Now that the pressure is on for the 3rd test his clueless-ness his steered him back to what he knows best – a Welsh selection.

      On the treatment of the Scottish players I feel that they have not been seriously considered and not been given a chance of a test spot.
      Granted Scottish rugby is not that strong but they showed potential in the 6 nations and were better than Ireland.
      On of the beauty of previous Lions tours was that Scottish players were plugged into the test set up and they excelled in having better players around them. Ian Mc Geechan was a master of spotting these individuals. Gatland just does not have that ability and just seems to look at size and weight when picking his team!
      People like Richie Gray, Ryan Grant, Stuart Hogg and Matt Scott could have done that this year……but they are not Welsh!

      Garland has done what the whole Aussie media have been trying to do, he has divided the squad with the Irish and Scots in particular feeling isolated whilst the Welsh machine rolls on.
      Also English players like Tom Croft and Tom and Ben Youngs should feel hard done by (not to mention Chris Robshaw)

      Lions 2013 – no creativity, no ambition, poor selections

      Actually hope the wallabies win today as they at least are trying to play rugby and Gatlands approach should never be successful.

      Lions tours are not just about winning, they are also about an ethos and a style of rugby.

      Please no more kiwi coaches who don’t get it!

      • Oran, stop being so in ignorant. “I basically imagine that most of the people who are arguing about the issue are like me: it has nothing to do with wanting a fair mixture of players, and everything to do with not wanting a team full of Welshman” – Geech picked zero Scottish players in hist last test. In the entire test series he picked one more Scotsman than Gats. How does that make him a genius blender?

        You hate the welsh. I get it. At least admit it instead of hiding behind a pretence of caring about rugby. You hate the welsh. It’s disturbing as a Welshman to feel such hatred directed our way. It’s gone way beyond banter this week.

        I am happy you’re not a Lions supporter. The thought of sharing an allegiance with you would be disturbing. Enjoy the match, I hope your team lose.

        • Sorry, wrong cut and paste, I meant this ignorant comment – On of the beauty of previous Lions tours was that Scottish players were plugged into the test set up and they excelled in having better players around them. Ian Mc Geechan was a master of spotting these individuals

          • Brighty u clearly have nothing better to do except fly off the handle at every comment that goes against your opinions.

            You need to realise and respect that everyone is entitled to have an opinion and maybe, just maybe……other people might see it different to you!

            Please try and show some respect for opinions that differ to yours and less of your childish and pathetic name calling.

          • Oran, your opinion is that players were not picked because they are welsh. You use incorrect facts to state that previous tours were much more inclusive. You talk about the “other” three nations being hard done by.

            So when your opinion is based on ignorance and a dislike of the welsh, as I am welsh, I feel happy to reply in the manner I have. Dont tell me which “opinions” I can reply to and the manner in which I can reply to them. If you only want replies of a specific type then do not comment on a public forum. Refuting my claims would be the intelligent response, trying to say I should not even make them is feeble.

  3. I’ll stand up for you Peter. And it’s not just about the BOD selection, even though that has turned most of my countrymen into Wallabies fans this Saturday. Gatland has cheapened the jersey with the call ups of Shane Williams and Tom Court just because they happened to be in Australia and had their boots handy.

    His always selecting and then not using one Scot in each test match smacks of tokenism. And the fact that the head coach, the assistant coach, the kicking coach, the video analyst and 10 of the starting 15 are all from Wales leaves the spirit of four nations fighting as one in tatters.

    He ignored the calls to have Joe Scmidt as attack coach because he knew that Joe Schmidt’s winning brand of exciting, attacking rugby as shown by Leinster over the last three years, might give a potential competitor the limelight with the Australian and Kiwi media. Plus Schmidt’s tactics differ widely from the boring bish-bash-bosh of Warrenball. And Joe would never have agreed to dropping BOD in such an unseemly fashion.

    At the start of this tour The Aussie press called the Lions selection “slabs of meat”. Unfortunately they have been proven right. These tourists and especially this coach, do not deserve to inherit the mantle of Ian McGeechan and the class of ’97. Looks like we’ll have to wait till 2017, that is if the Lions concept survives this shambles.

    On the plus side, England, Ireland and Scotland will all now be gunning for Wales, which should add some spice to the 2014 Six Nations.

    • Cross posting something here as Gavin’s post seems address the same issues.

      Obviously I’m able to talk happily right now because I don’t have to deal with any of the issues around countries/fave-players, so I do have sympathy with people disliking the selection, disliking BOD being dropped, etc. (sympathy but it doesn’t mean I agree – I reckon Tips and Ianto should also be starting).

      I do though have nothing but contempt for the psuedo-intellectual cowardice of “maybe it would be a good thing if the Lions lost” crowd as that is complete tosh – admit you hate them now, admit you’re a fairweather fan who only ever supported them when they did you want. Don’t pretend you have The Lions best interests at heart by pinning your colours to the “I won’t support them because then they’ll play free flowing rugby next time” mast. If you think that then go back and watch the 2nd test in SA in 09. A brutal bosh game of rugby, the best match of rugby I have ever seen, with a lot of the same players.

      And for those openly now shouting “come on you Aussies” so Gatland isn’t proved right, so that “The Welsh” get their comeuppance, I couldn’t care less about you. Enjoy cheering for the Wallabies.

      PS. It’s laughable to think that the other nations gunning for us is scary. I seem to remember that in 2012 the Irish were after us because of the way we dismissed them in the world cup. Also some fans claimed England were going to avenge the Twickenham “no-try” decision this year. If you’re saying you’ve held back in previous matches but now you’re really mad and want to beat us then I pity you.

    • Gavin – really!

      “Ignored call to have Joe Schmidt as attack coach”. So what?

      The Lions could have asked Schmidt to be head coach if they wished. They didn’t, and so duly the role of the Head Coach is to bring together the coaching team that works for him.

      Schmidt is the coach that didn’t win the Heineken Cup and didn’t win the Top 14 right? Despite being favourites for both.

      As it happens, I like Schmidt as a coach, but you can’t just chuck the 4/5 best coaches together and expect than to function in one direction. Someone has to be in charge, and Gatland was the best choice then.

      As for this “4 nations as one…..in tatters”; what nonsense! How should it work? 15 split equally, with one ( hard done by) nation only getting 3 in? 2 replacements each? Sounds a bit bonkers doesn’t it?

      • More commonsense from Bulb and Brighty.

        What a load of melodramatic posturing we are seeing. Its like a bunch of small children who have had their toys taken away.

        The Lions idea is that the BEST players from the 4 nations take on the boys from the southern nations. Get that? Its the best players. Not some kind of equal opportunity scheme.

        If the best players are Scottish, play 15 Scots. If the best players are Welsh, play 15 Welsh. Its about being chosen because you are the best – not because you were born in Glasgow, Swansea, Dublin or Milton Keynes

        Now, we all disagree with who the best players are and probably with the tactics used. But that’s not our decision is it? Who gives a crap what some monkey like me behind a keyboard thinks? I’m not the man chosen to coach and select the players to win the series. My balls aren’t on the line

        If you don’t want to support the Lions because BOD has had his testimonial match cancelled or because Scotland really aren’t good enough to have more players or because there’s three more Welsh players than last week – then good riddance, don’t watch the game and please stop with your self-righteous posing on these pages. I dare say we’ll all be better off without you. Certainly there will still be millions of us getting up early on Saturday, feeling all hopeful and excited and shouting for whoever runs out, because they are a Lion.

        • You just do not get the point

          This is a welsh run out for the World Cup and totally demeans the lions jersey

          I hope they get stuffed and maybe for 2017 we might choose a British coach

          Hope beech is still around

          • I really don’t get the point.

            Please tell me the maximum number of Welsh that should be permitted without demeaning the jersey. We have one more in the 23 than the first test. I just don’t see what the fuss is about.

            I hope each and every one of them plays the game of their lives tomorrow, regardless of whether, in my irrelevant opinion, I would have selected them or not.

            If the non Welsh players come back from the tour and say we they were marginalised, that there was favouritism and bias within the camp, that the tour has been a disgrace to the history and values of the Lions, then I’ll listen.

            There is however no evidence of this. No frustration vented in 140 characters or less that I’m aware of. No one is writing newspaper columns complaining about the management (like Dawson). Everything has seemed pretty tight and united thus far.

          • Peter, I also hope Geech is around for the next one. I suspect he’ll carry on his tradition of picking zero Scottish players just like he did in his last test in charge.

    • On the call ups “cheapening” the shirt …

      Right it was clearly a mistake to travel with injured players. This resulted in an increased workload and more players needing to double up because the squad is depleted, which then causes more injuries (Roberts, North, Tuilagi). So the problem snowballs. For 2017 we probably need to be looking at an initial squad of 39 and bring people in immediately when there is an injury.

      However given there was an injury crisis, other than protesting about the decisions that were made, what would you have done? Should we have put the same players out on the Sat, the Tues and the Sat? Given the situation they were in I can’t see that poor decisions were taken.

  4. The racket kicked up here in Ireland by the so-called rugby media regarding the dropping of o’driscoll is way over the top. Gatland has a proven track record as we well know here after head to heads with Wales in recent times. He mad a huge call and is staking a lot on it and could well be proven right. I wonder will Joe Schmidt have the same courage if the occasion demands in the near future with Ireland. I do think that the Scots have got a raw deal and should certainly have greater precence within the squad what ever about the test team and i also feel that we need to seriously look at bringing the Italians in to the whole Lions process in the future as they have after all only two full professional clubs like Scotland and are able to beat all the home nations from time to time , again like Scotland. The first two tests have been epic test matches that tested the players in every facet of the game and were a great advert and shows that we need a good well organised Lions tour more than ever and perhaps some of the second tier countries could be included in the tour itenerary in future . A combined Americas 15 or a Pacific Islands + Japan playing against the Lions in future tours could really drive Rugby global.

    • Add the Italians? So it becomes the B&I&I lions…

      And the Italians have not beaten ALL of the home nations from time to time, they have not beaten England.

      The calibre of player from Italy isn’t going to be high enough, rugby is still such a small sport there in relation to football. The only players I would take are Castro and Parisse.

      With regards to your America XV or Pacific one. This could grow the game, but again, these are areas where either rugby isn’t big enough, or they lack the infrastructure to host the lions. Not to mention the tradition that goes with the lions. As soon as you start changing that, then there is no longer tradition, and the lions won’t last long.

  5. In reply to the in accurate and in coherent mumbo jumbo from Mr “not so bright”
    I do not hate the Welsh. I think that they have a fine team and I pay money regularly to go and see them play both at club and international level.
    I just don’t think that there should be 10 players from Wales in this team. If Warburton was fit that would have been 11. They have not exactly got a great record against the Aussies in recent times.

    At no point did I tell you what comments to reply to and how to reply to them. If u take the red dragons out of your eyes and actually read what I wrote then u might see that.
    I simply asked u to respect other people’s opinions and not name call and act childishly.

    Enjoy the match!
    Go Lions! I mean Wales! I mean Wallabies ;)

  6. Sorry Peter, I can’t hear you for all the roaring going on in this pub. Gats vindicated. Best British and Irish side since 97. Brilliant. Majestic. Power, guile and quality. LIONS!!!!!!!

    • Yes only after they got rid of Phillips.another poor welsh selection and Davies did not measure up to BOD

      • Ha ha. 41-16. Ha ha. Poor selection. I wish we selected this poorly for every match. Ha ha. Enjoy, ooops, sorry, I forgot you didn’t enjoy, supporting the Aussies today. How did that go for you? Bitter much? Mwah ha ha ha ha. I’m off for another celebratory pint, enjoy your draught of twisted self pity. Ooops. More name calling from me. Sorry. I’m just so giddy with happiness right now, can you imagine what that feels like? Lions fans know exactly how it feels.

  7. Oh dear, what a lot of ill informed jingoistic rubbish. 10 Taffys because if Gats had put in Evans and Cuthbert and Jenkins and Warbs had been fit he would have been criticised for playing Sexton in the Welsh team (tongue in cheek chaps) If you read the articles that correspond to this in the Torygraph there is the same rubbish about the number of English players and I would guess the same in Ireland too. Fact is Wales have a batch of world class players all at the same time and they deserved their places. Evans and Cuthbert woudldnt have weakend the team one iota. All this will become crystal clear in the autumn internationals this year and next years 6N. If we can unearth another mercurial flyhalf before the next world cup it will take a dodgy ref to stop us.

    • I really think you are underestimating the impact that some of the non-welsh players had. Don’t get me wrong, the welsh boys were excellent, but swapping in Cuthbert and Evans would have weakened the team. (Bowe was excellent arielly and defensively, and Parling’s tap tackle… Need I say more?)

      Also I wouldn’t get too far ahead of yourself and start predicting far off victories, after all, this group of “world class player” are the ones who saw a AI whitewash, which included a loss to Samoa.

      Now the welsh boys have the monkey off their backs, they have their first win against the wallabies, so they just need to focus on consistency.
      Another area that Wales really struggle is the depth. (While this lot were away with the lions, the next-in-liners lost the Japan). That should be the focus now.

      • I disagree, Cuthbert & Evans are both right up there and Cuthbert is getting better every game, the suspect defending is much overstated (dont forget Charteris who has been injured). The Aus whitewash was without a coach (Gatland injured Howley completely green) and the Autumn internationals saw us minus half a dozen first second and third choice players (playing 4th choice tight head and fifth choice lock and other poor selections by Howley) Liam Williams (young fullback) instead of George North. Wales should have beaten the Aus several times and would have with Gatland in situ. The last test we lost by 2 points in injury time without Adam Jones, AW Jones, Lydiate & North playing Lou Reed as 6th choice lock. I`m telling you now as sure as god made little apples, all on the pitch together (or close to and our replacements bench has been really strengthened due to last autumns injury crisis) and we will be a match for anyone (now if we can just get that mold of solid gold to produce another Barry John!)

  8. Congratulations to Wales! Finally figured out how to beat the Wallabies. Just add one or 2 foreigners and there ya have it ;)

    Hope to see a return to a proper Lions tour in 2017 with no Gatland involvement.
    For you guys who think that it is just about winning then you will see this shambles as a success.
    Is Ian Mc Geechan the only person on the planet who can actually coach the Lions properly??

    The only winners on this tour are Wales and HSBC, cuz now they have an excuse to generate a few more million in 2017!

    • Jesus. I have to congratulate Oran for perhaps the most pathetic comment in a thread that’s hardly short of them.

      Well done Brighty, Matt, Blub and a few others for standing up to the fair-weather fans and other assorted cretins.

      Damn, it feels good to be right and to cheer yourself hoarse as your team thumps the opposition

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