THE Scottish rugby community is not instinctively resurrectionist, but you get the impression that another paltry allocation of Lions when the squad for this summer’s tour to South Africa is announced at lunchtime today could be the spark which sets off a tinderbox of unrest. 

There will be salmon-coloured chinos and Barber jackets marching in protest down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile if Hamish Watson doesn’t make the cut. Glasgow Warriors fans will gather outside Scotstoun to stamp their feet and shake their fists in fury if none of Zander Fagerson, Ali Price and Fraser Brown are involved. Down in Hawick, it will be the biggest setback to the town since Covid caused the Common Riding to be cancelled should Stuart Hogg somehow be left out.  

I exaggerate? Well, maybe just a little. But social media and the comment sections of sports websites have been on fire this week with outrage from fans north of the border at the mere suggestion of there being less than a half a dozen Scots on the tour. Perspective seems to have gone out the window. Anyone who does not share such levels of optimism is branded an ignoramus or a traitor. 

Scotland have been peripheral contributors to the Lions concept for over 20 years. Not since Gregor Townsend, Doddie Weir, Tom Smith, Alan Tait and Rob Wainwright were selected for the trip to South Africa in 1997 has there been more than three players from this country selected in an initial Lions tour party.  

There was three in 2001 (Smith again, Scott Murray and Simon Taylor), three in 2005 (Gordon Bulloch, Taylor again and Chris Cusiter), two in 2009 (Nathan Hines and Euan Murray), two in 2013 (Hogg and Sean Maitland) and two in 2017 (Hogg and Tommy Seymour. Others have been called up pre or mid tour, but never enough to alter the overall balance of the squad. 

In total, there has been 236 Lions squad places handed out – including late call-ups – since 1997, with 85 of those selections going to English players, 70 going to Welsh players, 59 going to Irish players and just 22 going to Scots. Smith, back in 2001, was the last scot to start a Test match. 

Now, at long last, there is good reason to believe that we can play a more central role in one of international rugby’s most prestigious traditions, and the sense of longing to feel like some sort of equal partner is palpable.  

This optimism is based on Scotland’s performances since their 2019 World Cup collapse, with an improved focus on set-piece and defence leading to the team becoming much less susceptible to embarrassing wake-up calls such as the 61-21 drubbing suffered against England at Twickenham in 2017 and the equally demoralising 34-7 loss in Wales the following year.  

Winning important games away from home used to be a big problem – not ideal when you are trying to get into a touring team – but this new-found pragmatism has helped the current squad beat Wales away for the first time since 2002, England away for the first time since 1983 and France away for the first time since 1999 during the last six months. 

The curmudgeon will point out that these results were achieved in empty stadiums due to Covid restrictions, but you can only play what is put in front of you, and the likelihood is that the games in South Africa will be played behind closed doors too. 

There is a widely held conspiracy theory in these parts that Warren Gatland – who is preparing for his third tour of duty as head coach of the Lions – is prejudice against Scots. In fact, he’s a pragmatist who will do what is necessary to get the job done. He will naturally lean towards those who have delivered from him on previous Lions trips and during his highly successful 12-year stint in charge of Wales, and Scotland’s players have not previously done enough to convince him that he needed to look beyond those he knows he can rely on. 

The presence of two members of the Scotland coaching team – Townsend in charge of attack and Steve Tandy in charge of defence – on the selection panel is significant. Townsend made it clear before his appointment was announced that he expected a better representation and having a strong voice in there to push the case could well swing the marginal calls. 

By my reckoning, as many as 12 Scots could be in the frame, but only one of that number is absolutely guaranteed selection. Something in the middle would be just about right. 

Definite: Stuart Hogg 

Probables: Hamish Watson and Finn Russell 

Possibles: Chris Harris, Zander Fagerson and Sean Maitland 

Long shots: Ali Price, Duhan van der Merwe, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie and Rory Sutherland (would have been at least a probable were it not for his shoulder injury) 

Bolter: Cameron Redpath