Four of the eight-strong Scots contingent share the honour of ending the long drought as British and Irish Lions test starters in Saturday’s historic Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup match against Japan at Murrayfield.
Zander Fagerson, Rory Sutherland, Duhan van der Merwe and Hamish Watson are in Warren Gatland’s selection for the first game of the summer schedule and the Lions’ first-ever appearance in Scotland.
The wait is finally over…😆
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 22, 2021
Although yet to be confirmed, the game against the Japanese is likely to gain full Lions test status. The four will finally end the record of Tom Smith, the last Scot to start a Lions test match dating from as far back as 2001 in Australia.
Picking Scots ‘fitted in well’
Head coach Warren Gatland said it had been a plan to play the Scots at Murrayfield as “that fitted in well”.
“I think if you’re playing in Scotland you want to have a reasonable representation of Scottish players,” he said. “We have the four starting and Ali (Price) on the bench, and we thought about Finn (Russell) and Chris (Harris) as well.
“For those player I think it is important they get a chance to play at Murrayfield in front of their home fans, their friends and families. If I were me as a player I would just love that chance.”
However the selection is on merit in a starting team that includes no Englishmen – mainly due to the Exeter players’ absence for the Premiership final and the arrival of the Saracens’ quartet in Monday.
“Hamish (Watson) was the Six Nations Player of the Year. His performances during the championship speak for themselves,” continued Gatland.
“Duhan offers something different, he was the top try scorer in the 6 Nations. For a guy who weighs 110 kg he gets some go forward, but it’s not just his power. He’s got good footwork, he’s quick and has that ability to finish off and score.
“We were impressed with the way the Scottish scrum went during the Six Nations. Rory is incredibly explosive and powerful and had a good championship, while Zander’s done a great job on the tight head.”
No issues with Sutherland
Sutherland has taken full part in training even though he missed the last few weeks of the club season with a shoulder injury. Russell has a slight ankle strain and while he is fully training the coaches have decided to be cautious.
“We’re confident and comfortable with where Rory is,” added Gatland. “He could have played for Edinburgh at the end of the season but we didn’t think he had anything to prove to us about his fitness.
“He’s taken part in all the scrums, the mauls and the driving in training and there have been no issues. If he’s a little short of match fitness we have Wyn Jones on the bench.”
‘We’re preparing for a test match’
The Lions board will determine whether Saturday’s game gets Lions test status or not, but Gatland and the squad have approached it as a full-on international match.
“We’re playing an international and I think it’s a test match, but those decisions are out of my hands and for the board to make,” he said.
“I can tell you we’re playing a quality international team we thoroughly respect that made the World Cup quarter-finals, so from a team perspective we’re preparing as if it is a test match.”
Lions team: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland); Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland); Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (capt, Ospreys, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland), Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)
Replacements: Jamie George (Saracens, England), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England).