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Persistence and games make Grant a candidate for Lions loose-head

Ryan Grant has an enthusiasm for environmental matters, but he wasn't for conserving his own energies against the Springboks on Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Grant breaks free against the Springboks
Ryan Grant breaks free against the Springboks

Regardless of what the scoreboard might have been saying, the Glasgow prop had a magnificent afternoon, buzzing around in the loose when not holding his own in the set-piece against one of the most vaunted scrummaging sides on the planet.

Not since emergence of Tom Smith in 1997 has a Scotland prop made so dramatic an impact as Grant has in his five Test matches to date.

He announced himself with a superb all-round display in the epic away victory over Australia in June, and has scarcely put foot wrong since. In short, he has made the position his own.

It is a staggering achievement by a player who, just short two years ago, was giving serious consideration to packing in rugby for good after failing to climb the pecking order at Edinburgh. It would overstate his involvement to describe Grant as a peripheral figure at the capital club, but his well-documented move to the other end of the M8 did not so much kickstart his career as send it into orbit.

Grant laughs off the irony of the fact that of all the coaches he played (or, more often, didn't play) under at Edinburgh, Andy Robinson was probably the one who showed least interest in what he had to offer. The Scotland coach has never fully explained that oversight, but even Grant's closest mates would hesitate to say their man made a particularly strong case for himself in the handful of chances he was given.

So you could say he is making up for lost time. You could also say he is on a propitious career trajectory, for he is certainly not the first Scottish loosehead to flower late before holding down the number one position for several years.

Ian McLauchlan was 26 before he first donned a Scotland shirt. Tom Smith was 26, too. And Grant was exactly the same age when he took the field against Australia five months ago.

McLauchlan and Smith both had to overcome the prejudices of coaches who thought that they were too small, and that their busy performances in the loose could only be at the expense of application in the scrum. Yet having dealt with those reservations on Scotland duty, Smith and McLauchlan were soon collecting Lions caps as well, adding to the timeline of great Scottish Lions looseheads that includes David Sole and Hugh McLeod as well.

Could Grant be next? The word is that Lions coach Warren Gatland had taken note of the former soldier's battling performances on Scotland's summer tour and his displays against New Zealand and South Africa over the past 10 days will have done his case no harm. Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healey are the current favourites for the Lions loosehead role, but Scottish props have a noble tradition of winning after starting as backmarkers. Smith had not even been capped by Scotland at the start of the 1996-97 season that ended with his triumphant Lions tour to South Africa.

Grant is no man mountain (despite the mountain man beard he has cultivated) but he uses his strength well in the set-piece. He had the taller, heavier and vastly more experienced Jannie du Plessis in trouble right from the start, and the Scotland scrum grew in confidence and effectiveness the longer the game went on, forcing a stream of penalties from their opponents. At the finish, Grant's only regret was that they had not had more opportunities to assert themselves earlier in the match.

"I'm happy with the way the scrum went," he said. "We'll take a proper look at it later, but it's always hard to tell exactly what's happening when you're in there. You're just holding your breath and your eyes are closed. But I'm pretty pleased. It's a good result for the scrum."

Could they have made more of the advantage? "I suppose so," Grant acknowldeged.

"At the start everyone is fresh and those first scrums are always the hardest and it's only later on in the game that the cracks begin to appear. When players start getting tired that's when you can really capitalise, and I think we did that well.

"But yes, things might have been different if there had been more scrums in the first half. Maybe we would have had a few more penalties here and there."

As he conceded, though, a lot of other things went wrong in that first 40 minutes, a period in which Scotland failed to build a platform despite having all the materials for doing so.

"In the first 30 minutes we did not execute the gameplan we had talked about," he explained. "It took a rocket of our backsides in the changing room at half-time for us to start executing like we trained, like we practised, like we had talked about.

"We saw the benefits in the second half and I think we were very unlucky not to get a score at the end. The contacts were still brutal, everything was still hard, but I felt that we really stepped up our game.

"That is the kind of rugby we want to be playing. We want to be pushing teams like that, but we didn't do it in the first half. And that cost us the game."

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