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.
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.
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.
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.
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.