LIONS head coach Warren Gatland has promised that Scotland will be better represented on this summer’s tour to South Africa than has been the case in the recent past, due to the team’s improved consistency – particularly away from home – during the last 18 months. 

Gatland picked only three Scots in his initial squad when he led the Lions to Australia in 2013, and only two for New Zealand in 2017, prompting considerable disquiet amongst rugby fans north of the border who felt they have been short changed.  

In fairness to the former Wales head coach, Scotland were no better represented in 2006 when Iain McGeechan led the Lions (two Scots in initial squad), nor in 2005 under Clive Woodward (three Scots) and 2001 under Graham Henry (three Scots), highlighting that the problem might be more fundamental than just one man’s bias. 

“I don’t care where you come from, I want to pick the best players,” said Gatland yesterday, immediately after naming two current members of the Scotland team among his four assistants for this tour. “There will definitely be more Scots this time because they have fronted up in the Six Nations.  

“Winning away in Paris and at Twickenham is significant because when you are playing for the Lions you are not playing at home,” he added. “Four years ago, what was probably damaging to the Scottish players and the Scottish team is that you go down to Twickenham and you get 50 points put on you. That’s not a good look.  

“I think they have had a great tournament. In the past 12 months, a number of players have put their hands up.  

“It is not about having excuses it is about picking a squad of players who you think can perform in a Lions jersey away from home on the biggest stage against the world champions. There’s no doubt that there are a number of Scottish players who have definitely impressed us in this campaign.” 

One issue which could have a major impact on the make-up of the playing squad is a stand-off between the Lions and PRL (the umbrella group which represents the top clubs in England), over player release during the build-up to the pre-tour match against Japan at Murrayfield on 26th June. 

Gatland says he understands that those players involved in the Premiership final on the same day as the Japan game won’t be available until later but hopes those who play for clubs that don’t make the play-offs will be released even though outside World Rugby’s designated international window. 

It is not the first time PRL has played hardball on this subject, with Sean Maitland blocked from playing in Scotland’s re-arranged Six Nations match against France last month. 

“If some of those players are not available for that preparation time – meaning we can only have a small group or we’ve got to call in extra stand-by players to play in that game – then when we are doing our final selection, with the amount of competition [for places there is], unfortunately some of those players may miss out,” said Gatland. 

“I’m just hoping we can get some resolution and common-sense will prevail, so we don’t have to go through the squad and start looking at 50-50 calls on players and thinking: well, he’s based in England so unfortunately he’s not going to be available to us.”