WARREN Gatland has praised the mature leadership of both Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell after naming both Scots in his British & Irish Lions starting line-up for Saturday night.

There are five Scots in all in the 15 to take on the South African Lions in Johannesburg, with a sixth among the substitutes. Russell, Hogg, Ali Price and Chris Harris are all in the back division, Hamish Watson is in the pack after recovering from the concussion which ruled him out of the Murrayfield match against Japan, and Zander Fagerson, who also had to drop out of that game after suffering back spasms, is on the bench. If the Glasgow Warriors tighthead gets on, it will mean all eight Scots have featured in the tourists’ opening two games after Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland started last week. 

Russell is preferred at stand-off to England’s Owen Farrell, who is named at inside centre. Gatland will give Farrell the opportunity to play at 10 at some point in the coming weeks, but has clearly been impressed by the expanded repertoire that the Scottish playmaker can now boast. 

“Finn has matured amazingly in the last few years in terms of his game management,” the head coach said after announcing his team to take on the South African Lions in Johannesburg. “We know what a player he is from an attacking perspective, but also it’s those little deft kicks, attacking kicks, that he’s able to bring to his game. I thought against France [in the Six Nations] the way he managed that game, and his kicking game and control, was outstanding.”

Four years ago Gatland only selected two Scots in his initial squad for the tour of New Zealand, and responded to criticism of that low number by insisting that the national team had not proven they had the ability to win pressurised games on the road. His choice of eight Scots for this tour is a reflection of how much has changed, with this year’s Six Nations victories at Twickenham and in Paris being particularly pertinent examples of how much Gregor Townsend’s side have improved. 

The growing maturity in Russell’s game cited by Gatland is part of the explanation for that, but so too is Hogg’s leadership, defined by the head coach as clear and concise. “Stuart is on his third tour now and he has done a great job with Scotland,” Gatland said. “He has come from a very successful club at Exeter. He's got that experience and leadership skills.

“He’s very calm and goes out there and leads from the front. He delivers concise and clear messages without rambling on and raving. I really like his leadership style and the way he has been with the team this week.”

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray was selected as skipper for the whole tour at the weekend after Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones was ruled out by an injury sustained in the win over Japan at Murrayfield. But Gatland insisted that Murray was only one member of a strong leadership group within the squad.

“There were a number of other players who were potentially in contention, because we have a very strong leadership group and we will need other players aside from Conor Murray to captain the team throughout this tour. We are fortunate that we have a fair number of choices that we could go to.

“With losing Alun Wyn there is now responsibility on the leadership group and other players in the squad to step up and support each other. They have done a great job doing that and taking on the mantle to make sure it's not just Stuart’s responsibility. Those experienced players are taking a role in communicating and taking pressure off the captain.”