Tour players named
Eight Scots in Lions squad for South Africa
Finn Russell: squad member (pic: SNS Group)
Eight Scots have been named in the British & Irish Lions squad for the tests against South Africa on 24 & 31 July and 7 August.
Chris Harris, Stuart Hogg, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Duhan van der Merwe, Zander Fagerson, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson represent one of the biggest contingencies from Scotland. Just two Scots made the initial squad four years ago.
There are 11 England players, 10 from Wales and eight from Ireland.
Alun Wyn Jones, who led Wales to Six Nations success and has played in three previous Lions tours, was confirmed as captain, edging out Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and England’s Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.
Among the surprise omissions are Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton – a key member of the 2017 tour – and Ireland second row James Ryan.
Sam Simmonds, without an England cap in more than three years, is preferred to Billy Vunipola in the back row.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: “In all my time in coaching this is the most challenging squad I’ve ever been involved in picking.
“It is trying to get the balance. At the end of the day, selection is just a matter of opinion and we’ve got to try and put the best squad together.
“We are trying to put a squad together that we think can go down there and win the series.”
Scotland hasn’t had more than three players in a Lions squad since Gregor Townsend, Doddie Weir, Tom Smith, Alan Tait and Rob Wainwright boarded the plane to South Africa in 1997.
Scottish Rugby’s chief executive officer Mark Dodson said: “The competitiveness we have shown throughout the last two Six Nations Championship campaigns is now underlined by today’s announcement. It affirms we are producing players to compete alongside some of the best in the world.”
There will also be a significant Scottish presence off the pitch, with head coach Townsend named as the Lions attack coach and Steve Tandy (defence) also having been included in Gatland’s backroom team.
The Lions are scheduled to play Japan in a warm-up match at Murrayfield on Saturday, 26 June.
Hopes for a big crowd in Edinburgh have been hit, however, with ticket holders having been informed that refunds can be requested with the likelihood of the game being staged in front of a vastly-reduced attendance.
A letter from the Lions to supporters said: “We appreciate these are challenging times and there is still a lot of uncertainty, but we remain optimistic that the match will take place and a crowd, of some capacity, will be permitted.
“We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government, Scottish Rugby and public health authorities to follow the relevant guidance and ensure the health and safety of our ticket-holders, teams and operational staff remains our highest priority.
Lions coach: Gregor Townsend (pic: SNS Group)
“Unfortunately, it is looking increasingly likely that a full capacity crowd is not going to be permitted and a significant reduction in spectators at this match will be required.
“We will update you as soon as more details of spectator capacity are known. We understand you may no longer wish to attend the match due to the pandemic or for personal reasons. If you would like to cancel your tickets, we are offering you the opportunity to obtain a full refund.
“As per the ticket Terms and Conditions you agreed to at the time of purchase, the full face value of the tickets would be refunded to you, minus the Order Processing Fee of £2.75.
“Please note the refund process is optional at this stage, though we may still have to cancel tickets at a later date if a significant capacity restriction is in force for the match.”
The Tests in South Africa also look set to be played out in front of limited crowds, with only local fans allowed in. The possibility of the games being staged behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be ruled out.