Warren Gatland has hinted that fewer English players and more Scots will feature in his British and Irish Lions squad for the 2021 tour to South Africa.
The former Wales head coach will lead the Lions for a third consecutive tour alongside assistants Steve Tandy (Scotland), Gregor Townsend (Scotland), Robin McBryde (Leinster) and Neil Jenkins (Wales), with the recent 6 Nations seemingly playing a big role in determining squad members.
England’s dip in form since the Autumn Nations Cup and Scotland’s pair of historic away victories against the English and France have caught the eye of Gatland, who said on Tuesday that there would be ‘no doubt’ that Scottish representation in this year’s touring party would be larger than that in 2017.
Four years ago, just two Scottish players (Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour) were selected in the original 41-man squad for the trip to New Zealand, although Greig Laidlaw, Allan Dell and Finn Russell were subsequently called up as injury cover.
But this time around, Gatland has taken notice of Scotland’s away form in the 6 Nations, with that having been the rationale for so few players being selected for the last tour.
Jason Leonard has confirmed intent to keep tour in SA, as scheduled. 🇿🇦
“After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board’s intended position is for the tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021.” pic.twitter.com/7IOiL98jKA
— Rugbydump.com (@Rugbydump) March 23, 2021
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Podcast, Gatland said: “In this [Six Nations] tournament Scotland had two great wins away from home.
“You have got to be conscious of that because we are playing away from home.”
“There is no doubt that with their form in the last 12 months and particularly at the Six Nations, there will be more Scottish players represented and I think that’s good.”
Throughout the 6 Nations, a number of Scottish players had been shortlisted for the tour, but with Gatland’s squad mooted to be reduced to just 36 travelling members, the chances of more representation than in previous years appeared to be diminished.
6 Nations player of the tournament Hamish Watson has been tipped for a spot in the squad, despite being regarded by rugby journalist Stephen Jones as “too small for the Springboks” in a recent column.
Still, Gatland has entrusted current Scotland head coach Townsend with the role of attack coach, which could yet provide more Scottish backs a chance to make the cut.
English players could miss out after poor 6 Nations
Gatland also suggested that some English players might have missed out on inclusion in the squad, following a disappointing 6 Nations tournament, where they lost at home to Scotland and away to both Wales and Ireland heavily.
The Kiwi admitted that England captain Owen Farrell “probably didn’t have his best tournament” but stopped short of saying that he would miss the tour.
“There are probably some names that would have been inked in a couple of years that we are now having a serious debate about,” Gatland said.
“Across the board [between the coaches] we’ve probably got about 20-odd, 23 names [decided]. There will be some quality players that will miss out on the final number.
“I am very pleased to have assembled such a high-quality coaching team.
“It’s a really strong group and I’m excited to see what we can achieve together – I think we’ll all compliment each other well in South Africa.”
With a reduced squad this year, it is clear that some players who would have been on the cusp of inclusion in a normal year may be left disappointed. Gatland is expected to announce his 36-man squad on Thursday 6th May.