A week or so ago yet another article popped up in the burgeoning ‘hammer Scottish rugby players with Lions’ aspirations’ genre. This one (by Neil Francis in the Irish Independent) had to try even harder to denigrate the Scots as by this point a batch of them had already been selected to tour by Warren Gatland.
Here are my top 5 “whit?!?” moments from a piece that would have caused eyes to roll so hard that many folk would have ended up dizzy…
1. The reasons why Johnny Sexton wasn’t selected
Ireland and their prospective players were hamstrung on two fronts – firstly, they had nobody at the selection table and, secondly, Leinster’s non-performance over in La Rochelle at the weekend.
Robin McBryde was at the selection table (Leinster’s forwards’ coach for any forgetful journos). There was also the small matter of head coach Warren Gatland – a man who had already picked Sexton for two previous Lions’ tours as well as selecting the Irish out half in each of their last six Test matches, starting five of them.
It would be a pretty remarkable thing if “Leinster’s non-performance over in La Rochelle” counted against Sexton’s selection given he didn’t play in that game.
2. Scotland’s Six Nations finishing position – with no context
Scotland finished fourth in this year’s Six Nations, fourth again in 2020 and fifth in 2019, which is effectively last!
Scotland finished fourth in 2021 by a single point on points difference behind third placed Ireland and had the same number of wins as second placed France. They also finished fourth on points difference in 2020 – and again had the same number of wins and points as Ireland.
Since the beginning of the current RWC cycle Scotland and Ireland have collected 6 wins and 29 points in the Six Nations. England have managed 6 wins and 28 points. Wales have 5 wins and 28 points.
3. The sheer ease of beating England and France away
It is true that they beat England in Twickenham and France in Paris but Ireland and Wales have been doing that for years.
Must be extremely commonplace then. However, if we compare Scotland and Ireland’s record over the last decade away to England and France then we have Ireland with 3 wins and a draw and Scotland with 2 wins and a draw. And all of the Scots’ positive results have come more recently than the last time Ireland managed to avoid defeat at Twickenham or Stade de France.
4. Hamish Watson is a poor man’s Josh van der Flier
Hamish Watson also gets a seat on the plane. He was voted as the player of the tournament in this year’s Six Nations by the fans. However, every time Edinburgh play against Leinster he seems to be blown off the pitch by Josh van der Flier.
A frankly incredible effort from van der Flier to consistently outplay the Six Nations’ Player of the Tournament. It’s especially noteworthy given these two players have never – not once, not ever – started a club game against each other and their total head to head time at that level is a whopping 15 minutes in 2016.
5. Hamish Watson is too small – the remix
The South African back row that won the World Cup in 2019 consisted of Siya Kolisi, Pieter Steph du Toit and Dwayne Vermeulen, savage beasts and huge men.
(Incidentally it’s Duane not Dwayne – and also Pieter-Steph not Pieter Steph if we’re being properly precise…)
Siya Kolisi (South Africa’s openside and prospective direct opponent for Watson) is 1.87m and 106kg. Watson is 1.85m and 102kg.
The whole Hamish Watson is too small to take on South Africa thing makes Francis’s conception of who should have gone instead even more remarkable:
It makes the non-selection of Sam Underhill all the more surprising.
Sam Underhill is 1.86m and 103kg.
It’s certainly not easy to parse this stream of consciousness rant but it appears the writer wants just one Scot on the tour (Stuart Hogg – but nowhere near the Test side). However he only mentions a single Irishman that has missed out in one of these apparent 50/50 selection calls – Johnny Sexton to Finn Russell.
He appears to feel that the remaining Scots have been promoted ahead of far more deserving (checks notes) Englishmen, by and large. Frankly it seems bizarre for an Irish writer to be working himself into such a hysterical frenzy over a burning desire to see England’s representation boosted to 16 players.
It’s even more odd given his assertions in the piece that “just about everybody beat England this year” and fifth place in the Six Nations is “effectively last” when that was the slot filled by the English in this season’s tournament.
One wonders if this diatribe has more to do with latent bitterness over Neil Francis’s playing record against Scotland (played 6, won 0, drawn 1, lost 5) than any genuinely held feelings about the Lions’ selection?