British & Irish Lions 2021 | Scotland's Pride
With the news that Warren Gatland has today selected eight Scots in his initial 37-man squad for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa this summer, we take a look at the players chosen for one of the truly iconic sporting occasions.
STUART HOGG (Full-back)
AGE: 28 (turns 29 on 24 June)
Scotland’s talismanic full-back was selected for previous Lions tours to Australia and New Zealand in 2013 and 2017 respectively, injury cutting short his involvement and possible Test cap four years ago.
Since making his international debut in 2012, the Exeter Chiefs flyer has grown into one of the game’s global stars, his piercing runs and booming spiral kicks representing the calling cards of a player who consistently has opposition defences scrambling to cover his attacking prowess.
As national captain, Hogg has led his side to notable Guinness Six Nations away wins over England and France in 2021 and he was named as player of the championship in both 2016 and 2017.
A Test cap for the Lions would complete a remarkable few years for the iconic Scottish speedster.
HAMISH WATSON (Flanker)
One of the most destructive ball carriers in the northern hemisphere, Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson’s consistent excellence was rewarded in being named the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship ahead of some stellar names.
Watson’s has been a mainstay in the Scotland side since his 2015 debut, his barnstorming runs and abrasive defence, as well as breakdown nuisance, regularly affording his side the opportunity to get front-foot ball.
Competition for back-row inclusion at British & Irish Lions level is arguably as fierce as any other area of the squad, and so Watson’s call-up – he is the first Scot in that area to be picked since Simon Taylor (both 2001 and 2005) and Jason White (2005) – is testament to his standing in the game.
FINN RUSSELL (Stand-off)
Scotland’s attacking orchestrator-in-chief is one of the most exciting and imaginative playmakers in world rugby, his vision and unpredictability ensuring that opposition defences are never certain of his next move.
Russell made his Scotland bow against USA in 2014 and has since blossomed into the world class stand-off that his ability always promised. A move to French outfit Racing 92 in 2018 has developed his game to the next level and with goalkicking duties now assumed on the international stage, Russell’s stock has risen even further in recent times.
His selection follows a 2017 call-up midway through the tour to New Zealand; not since Gregor Townsend in 1997 has a Scot played Test minutes for the Lions in the number 10 shirt.
CHRIS HARRIS (Centre)
Gloucester centre Chris Harris has enjoyed a rapid rise in the international ranks since first being called up for Scotland duty in 2017, his defensive accuracy and controlled aggression giving balance to his side’s attacking sets and regularly helping to turn over opposition ball.
Such trust in Harris’ abilities led to him starting 11 of Scotland’s last 12 Test matches, as he played starring roles in a trifecta of recent away wins against Wales, England and France.
The centre area is another where Warren Gatland has an embarrassment of riches from which to select, and so the Scotland centre’s inclusion is as notable in that respect as it is fully deserved in its own right.
Harris becomes the first Scottish centre to gain Lions selection since Alan Tait in 1997 – although he starred out of position on the wing in that successful South African series.
ALI PRICE (Scrum-half)
AGE: 27 (turns 28 on 12 May)
Price was given the opportunity to stake his claim as Scotland’s first-choice scrum-half after the 2019 Rugby World Cup and in starting 13 of 14 Tests since, the Glasgow Warrior has stepped up in fine style.
Now seen as one of the experienced heads in the Scotland set-up, the responsibility of leadership has suited Price’s own development as he enters his peak years, his partnership with Finn Russell often making the national team tick in their search for tries.
Price follows in the scrum-half footsteps of a tranche of Scottish greats to have received a call-up, with Greig Laidlaw the last to do so in 2017, as an injury replacement.
RORY SUTHERLAND (Prop)
A 2016 Scotland debut saw Edinburgh loosehead Rory Sutherland earn three caps in quick succession, but a series of injury complications meant his international involvement was curtailed for four years, before a triumphant return for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations campaign.
The Hawick scrummager has since become a mainstay of a terrific Scotland pack who compete and dominate opposing forwards in a way not seen for many a year. Indeed, Sutherland has only been on the losing side three times in his past 11 Test matches, as if to highlight the importance of this international return.
Not since the great Tom Smith (1997, 2001) has a Scottish loosehead been selected for the British & Irish Lions.
A shoulder injury sustained in April had threatened to derail his British & Irish Lions dream, but the quality of his recent performances ensured selection for South Africa.
ZANDER FAGERSON (Prop)
It speaks volumes for the Glasgow Warriors tighthead that he has amassed nearly 40 caps for Scotland despite being only 25 years old, his consistency of performance allowing him to reach as many appearances since a 2016 Calcutta Cup debut at BT Murrayfield.
Fagerson has made the number 3 shirt his own in that time, starting in 12 of his past 13 internationals and creating, alongside an increasingly effective front row, a platform from which Scotland can try to dominate teams and get front-foot ball for their back division to thrive on.
He is the first tighthead to be called up in a Lions initial squad since Euan Murray in 2009.
DUHAN VAN DER MERWE (Wing)
AGE: 25 (turns 26 on 4 June)
Having qualified to play for Scotland in 2020, three years on from the beginning of some blistering displays for Edinburgh, winger Duhan van der Merwe has made the sort of impact on the international scene that many hoped he would.
A devastating strike runner, he scored a try on debut against Georgia at BT Murrayfield last year, before going on to star, and score, in notable away wins in England and France, his sheer presence enough to make opposing defences scramble for cover.
With a remarkable strike rate approaching a try per game, Western Cape-born van der Merwe will be seen by Warren Gatland as a valuable attacking asset on the dry, hard pitches of his native South Africa – and how he would relish the chance to take on the world champions in their own back yard.