WHEN the Lions triumphed over World Champions South Africa in the first tour of the professional era back in 1997, there was five Scots – Alan Tait, Gregor Townsend, Tom Smith, Doddie Weir and Rob Wainwright – named in the 35-plater strong initial tour party. Tait, Townsend and Smith started all three Test matches. 

There has been no more than three Scots in the initial selection for any of the five tours since then, with Smith the last Scot to start a Test match on the 2001 tour of Australia. Gordon Bulloch got a cameo off the bench in the final Test (a dead-rubber) of the 2005 series in New Zealand as the swansong to his fine international career, four years later Ross Ford came off the bench in the fianl Test (also a dead-rubber) in South Africa, and Richie Gray got the last 13 minutes of the final Test (a game which actually counted) against Australia in 2013. 

Scotland’s peripheral role in the Lions tradition during the professional era has been the source of considerable regret and/or resentment north of the Border – but after a promising Six Nations and with two Scots coaches in Warren Gatland’s management team, hopes have been raised that a bumper crop could be involved when the 36-man tour party to visit South Africa this summer is named on Thursday. But don’t bet on it. 

Six Scots – maybe even more – is possible, but two or three seems just as plausible. In fact, at this stage, Stuart Hogg looks like the only nailed-on squad member – which would be tough to swallow from a Scottish perspective but Gatland has proven in the past that appeasement is not a factor in his selection policy. 

Hamish Watson won a fan’s vote to become the 2021 Six Nations player-of-the-championship, and while the suggestion that he is too small to cope with the physicality the Lions will encounter in South Africa doesn’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny, he is disadvantaged by being a specialist openside up against ferocious (and more versatile) competition in the shape of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill of England, and Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi of Wales. 

Finn Russell is a world beater on his day, but whether Townsend – who has had his own issues with the stand-off in the past – can persuade Gatland to trust the free-spirited playmaker on a rugby journey with few second chances will be fascinating. 

Loose-head prop Rory Sutherland was a great bet for this tour right up until the moment he suffered a shoulder injury during Scotland’s final Six Nations match against France last month. While Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill did his best to sound positive about the Hawick-man’s prospects of making the Lions  last week when revealing that surgery isn’t required, he did concede that it is touch and go as to whether he will be fit in time for the pre-tour camp which starts in mid-June. Gatland can’t afford to wait that long. 

Tight-head Zander Fagerson’s scrummaging now matches his work-rate and aggression around the park, so he is in with a shout, while the injuries which kept Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally out of the Six Nations won’t have helped their chances of being among the hookers in South Africa. Second-row Jonny Gray has taken his rugby to the next level since joining Exeter Chiefs last summer, but is up against Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, James Ryan and Iain Henderson, with Tadhg Beirne as a hybrid option also covering blindside flanker. 

Ali Price appears to be a marmite character amongst Scotland fans, but is now playing with a maturity which could see him sneak in as a third pick at scrum-half.  

Both Tandy and Townsend are big fans of Chris Harris as a defensive bulwark in the outside-centre channel, while Cameron Redpath made a big impact in his one and only Test appearance against England at the start of the Six Nations and has now returned from injury at club level with Bath, so both could be bolters for the squad.  

Duhan van der Merwe’s eight tries in 10 matches has put him right in the frame to play against his country of origin, however Sean Maitland is a far more accomplished all-round option if Gatland does decide that there is room in the squad for a Scottish winger. 

BACKS: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Josh Adams (Wales), Anthony Watson (England), Jonny May (England), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Chris Harris (Scotland), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ben Youngs (England), Gareth Davies (Wales) – 16 

FORWARDS: Wyn Jones (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Ken Owens (Wales), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Jamie George (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), James Ryan (Ireland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Tom Curry (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Sam Underhill (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales) – 20