THERE are now only two and a half weeks before the British & Irish Lions announce their squad of 36 for this summer’s tour to South Africa.

But Gregor Townsend, for one, believes that is ample time for the selectors to make a lot of revisions to their initial thoughts. 

The Scotland coach, who will be in charge of the Lions attack on tour, has already submitted a list of 36 to head coach Warren Gatland. He explained that, although settling on that selection was hard enough, he expects to make a lot of modifications to his list between now and when the squad is eventually announced on Thursday 6 May.

“It took a long while,” Townsend said last week after being named alongside Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy in Gatland’s backroom staff. “I asked more than a couple of times could it be 56 rather than 36! 

“I watched a few games I hadn’t seen in the Six Nations and also some club games. And I’ll have to do a lot more of that over the coming weeks. My 36 in a few weeks’ time will be very different to this week, I’d imagine, as I’ll know a lot more about the players by then. 

“We’ll probably have three more weekends of looking at players, so that will be important. There will be a lot of looking back at previous games as well over the past 12 months.”

While there is a lot of due diligence to be undertaken before the coaching team finalise their decisions, Townsend is sure that Scotland will have far greater representation than in the recent past. “The Scottish players are in a much better position than four and eight years ago because of their performances and their consistency,” he continued. “When you put the last two Six Nations together, there’s only one point separating the four competing Lions nations.

“Over the last two years, our players have shown they can perform in our biggest games, which tends to be the Six Nations. It will be as tough for Scottish players as ever before, as the competition level is so high. 

“But it will be tough for English, Irish and Welsh players too, as there is real depth. I’m sure the four countries will be represented on how well their players have played and who can help the Lions win a Test series.”

Townsend himself helped the Lions win the 1997 series against the Springboks, when Scotland’s Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer were the main coaches. International rugby may have changed greatly in the quarter-century since that tour, but the ex-stand-off has still been able to pick up some useful advice from his former mentor McGeechan. 

“I spoke to Geech a couple of days ago and plan on having a lot more discussions with him over the next few weeks. He said it will make me a better coach and should make the people you work with better when you bring ideas back to Scotland. So that’s all great for the long term. But we understand that in the short term there will be some tough times and tough challenges from a coaching perspective.”