The 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand was in many ways a success for the home nations, only losing once to New Zealand in the three-game test series.

This achievement is something every person in Britain and Ireland should be proud of, but here in Scotland, there is still a bitter taste in people’s mouths. That taste comes from the fact that only two Scots made it into the original squad. This subsequently resulted in many Scots even supporting New Zealand during the tour!

Why did this happen? Scotland secured two solid wins against Ireland and Wales in the 6 Nations and was only a try away from finishing second in the tournament.

Scotland’s critics would point to the embarrassing loss to England and the fact Scotland only won their home games. The loss to England was embarrassing, but winning only home games was essentially par for the course. Outside of teams beating the woeful Italians in Rome, the only team to win on the road was England (against a tiring Welsh side).

Scotland are just not rated

I and many others have drawn the conclusion that people simply don’t rate Scottish Rugby as highly as the other home nations. This may be deserved after years of inconsistency.

This underrating, justified or not means many don’t know a lot about Scottish rugby’s rich heritage. And more astounding than that, they don’t know what is going on in the Scottish rugby scene. I recall watching Glasgow Warriors Vs Racing 92 last year and Austin Healey being absolutely stunned by the quality of Finn Russell’s performance. He even stated, “he might just swap that blue jersey (Glasgow’s) for a red one (B&I Lions)“. For many of us watching the game, we weren’t surprised at all. We’ve become accustomed to seeing Russell perform at such high intensity and intelligence.

Finn Russell. By www.davidmolloyphotography.com, via Wikimedia Commons
Finn Russell.
By www.davidmolloyphotography.com, via Wikimedia Commons

Austin Healey’s sheer surprise at how well Russell and the Warriors did against Racing is not a one-off. It is normal for a lot of people to show surprise. That game and the lack of belief from journalists in Glasgow’s possible title push in the Pro 14 this year (when in my opinion they are clear favourites) makes me draw to the conclusion that Scottish Rugby is underrated.

Exposure?!

From my point of view, it is not because people don’t like Scottish rugby. It’s not that they find it boring. Quite the opposite. It basically comes down to exposure. The lack of journalist and media attention it receives is stifling its development.

Everyone knows about Gary Ringrose and Sam Davies. They are the next “big things” for Ireland and Wales. We all know this. Compare this to Adam Hastings and Matt Fagerson, why is so little known about them? I believe this lack of attention is behind the small contribution Scotland made to the Lions and needs to be addressed.

Solution – TV Coverage

I believe there are many solutions to this issue.

The first being that a better TV deal is needed for the Pro14 itself. The Scottish teams are usually found on the channel BBC Alba and the language spoken during the games is primarily Gaelic. Except for the rare occasions when a red button English option is available.

In Scotland, only around 1.1% of people speak Gaelic, so it’s not exactly appealing to people who don’t know rugby to try and watch, let alone anyone from any other country who would want to watch Glasgow or Edinburgh games. This is also an issue for the Welsh teams as their games are largely shown on S4C, and the language spoken is Welsh. These Channels are also tediously hard to find, even if you know where to look. So what hope has someone from New Zealand or France in finding, or enjoying the rugby on show?

My solution would be a TV deal with Sky or BT Sports. In the same way as the Premiership and Top 14 has. This would make the games easier to find and in a language that most people will understand. This, in turn, would make the Pro14 a much more attractive league to watch for rugby supporters.

The increase in people watching the Pro14 will also mean an increase in people watching the Scottish teams play, giving the players much needed exposure to the world.

Solution – Frontline coaching

Another solution would be a Scottish coach involved in the 2017 Lions tour. Gregor Townsend was offered an assistant attack coach role, which was rightly rejected. This would have meant that Townsend would have worked under Rob Howley. Given Howley’s reasonably tame attack whilst with Wales this would not have worked.

Gregor Townsend - Scotland head coach. Australia v Scotland, Allianz Stadium, Moore Park, Sydney, Australia, Saturday 17th June 2017  Copyright photo: David Gibson / Fotosport / www.photosport.nz
Gregor Townsend – Scotland head coach.
Australia v Scotland, Allianz Stadium, Moore Park, Sydney, Australia, Saturday 17th June 2017
Copyright photo: David Gibson / Fotosport / www.photosport.nz

Backs coach would have been ideal for Townsend during that 2017 Lions tour. His Glasgow side was arguably one of the most entertaining and potent attacking teams in the Northern Hemisphere. So much so that the NZRU looks to have identified it as such and suggested that Dave Rennie take the leap. Dave Rennie is an excellent coach and is building on the foundations of Townsend.

I can’t escape the feeling that if Townsend had been offered backs coach, more Scottish faces would have been included in that tour. At the very least there would have been someone to argue their case.

In reality, although Scotland has underperformed for too many years I am genuinely hopeful with this current group of players. Yes, Scotland will have to prove that they can play at a consistently high level, like Wales, Ireland and England have. But with these players, I am excited about the future of Scottish rugby.

Photos: www.photosport.nz

Author: Andrew Reid

I’m obsessed with all things rugby. I’m from a small town in Scotland called Biggar and currently living in Edinburgh studying for my degree in Architecture. When I’m not studying I am playing for my local club, Biggar Rfc. I am also an avid Glasgow Warriors fan and a British and Irish Lions nerd.

5 COMMENTS

  1. At the moment mate, I rate Scotland over Wales. 100%.

    Its not just the way that the regions are playing, which in special regards to Glasgow, are smashing the Ospreys and Scarlets out of the water, but also. Scottish players are now being taught modern, fast, attacking Rugby. Their fitness is being worked on, and in Townsend and Rennie, they have coaches who are trying to embrace change and put Scottish Rugby on the Map, and they will go to drastic lengths to do so.

    Wales however, not only are their regions playing poorly, but as of the last Six Nations, they have not changed their style. They raise their games in intensity on certain occasions, but they haven’t changed their gameplan really, and this is a problem.

    At International level, the best coaches are able to make a group of players better than the sum of their parts. This happens for Ireland in particular, England are certainly starting down that road. But Wales. No. Howley in particular was lambasted by Sean O’Brien. Scotland, with a class coach at Club and now International level are starting down that road. The next Six Nations could be very good for them.

  2. Hi Connor, I agree that Scotland are ahead of Wales at the moment. Wales has really struggled with the change to regional rugby. The old tribalism is still there supporters of clubs such as Pontypridd & Bridgend will never support Blues or Ospreys . I’d be interested to know how regional rugby is viewed in Scotland. When i was growing up Scottish rugby was all about the borders. What Wales have managed to do especially in the Six nations is to win away from home and also have the knack of gaining momentum, when Wales get on a roll they are difficult to stop, Wales rarely finish second, it’s usually Grand Slam/Championship or nowhere. What I’d like to see is Scotland winning away from home this year (but obviously not in Cardiff!!!) and also Glasgow reaching the Cup semi’s at least. I also agree about Scottish rugby not getting the coverage it deserves, this is true of all of the pro-14 sides, the media either ignore it or are astonished when a Pro-14 team wins a game against an English or French team in the champions cup. Cheers Rob

  3. Really like the article. Couple of comments from a Welsh fan.
    Do you feel that Townsend should’ve accepted the role, yes it could be perceived as a slight to be an assistant, but he is a club coach and lacks much coaching experience at international or European level. With the talk from O’Brien about Howley, wouldn’t Townsend have been able to influence the dynamic and put at least some of his ideas onto the table.

    With regards to Lions participation, yes 100% no lions coach affected there selection chances. Part of this is also that Scotland play quite a different style to other NH teams, and i do not think Gatland planned to play that sort of Rugby. But i also think part of the Scottish issue, is a perception of a coming together of parts rather than stand out individuals (a few exceptions). Scotland when they win, often get hailed as a fantastic ‘team’ performance. Whereas when selecting the Lions squad you are generally picking the best 2-3 individuals in a position. And that is where maybe some of the Scots get knocked down a peg, due to there teams up and down form. Compared to many of the ‘experienced’ Wales players who have all won ‘Big’ matches, Grand Slams and were on a previous Lions Tour, experiences many of the Scots lack (sadly). When I look through the Scottish contenders to have gone, i don’t really see who else could have gone who was available.

    Personally many of Wales problems are coach related (especially Howley), there should have been a shake up after the last WC. As the stagnation of the team has coincided with a lack of evolution behind the scenes. And I greatly fear that this will continue when the WRU inevitably give Howley the job after Gatland.

    With the upcoming WC now to look forward to, we have a Scottish team going upwards, just need to add in Away victories, and beating England at home. Whereas Wales are in danger at the moment of taking too many backwards steps as the game moves forward

    Apologies for long response. Again great article.
    Owen

  4. Great article Andrew. This season is when we find out just how far Scottish rugby has come under Cotter and Townsend. Glasgow have made the perfect start to the season with many of their big names not starting. Edinburgh’s mixed fortunes continue to be a cause for concern but with the plans for a new semi-pro league and the number of exciting new players coming through I think we have turned the corner and can look forward to some great things.

    I think that, as Owen Isaac noted above, Scotland have been playing a much different style of rugby from the other home nations and that this was a large factor in the lack of Scots on the Lion’s tour.

    Paul

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