British and Irish Lions 2017: Selection hard on Scots, but who does Warren Gatland leave out?

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Scotland's Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg
Scotland's Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg are the only two Scots in the Lions squad

When Warren Gatland dropped Brian O'Driscoll for the third Lions Test in Australia four years ago, he thought he knew what the reaction in Ireland was going to be, but he didn't.

He thought his years as a coach of Galwegians, Connacht and Ireland had given him sufficient insight into the Irish psyche, but they hadn't.

For omitting the darling of the Irish game, the Kiwi knew that all sorts of flak was heading his way. He knew that people would object thunderously and he was ready for that. He knew that people would object to his decision on rugby terms and he was steeled to the criticism.

What he hadn't banked on was people losing the plot and accusing him of acting maliciously towards O'Driscoll in a bitter attempt to settle a score with Irish rugby following his sacking as national team coach in 2001. That stuff hurt. There was heaps of it and it was as ugly as it was unjustified.

Gatland is a tough old boy, but that allegation stung, not just professionally, but personally. He made the call to drop O'Driscoll and promote Jonathan Davies for purely rugby reasons. Rightly, as it turned out.

When Gatland decided to go with only two Scots - and a dozen Welsh - for the upcoming Lions tour to New Zealand, he did it because he feels it is the right thing to do. He'll take the grief, but let's hope the grief begins and ends with rugby without spiralling into some conspiracy theory about him having no time for the Scottish game.

For Scottish rugby, there is despondency all over the place in this selection. No Scottish forward in a Lions squad for the first time since 1908. The joint lowest number of Scots in history.

No recognition of the Scottish pack - particularly the back row, which completely outplayed the Welsh back row in the Six Nations. Wales have four back-rows and six forwards in Gatland's squad. Only two Scottish players - Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour - get the nod as opposed to 23 combined from Ireland and Wales, two teams that Scotland beat only a couple of months ago.

There are legitimate gripes and taking points, but is there a miscarriage of justice? It's hard to see one. Is there a player whose claim was so obvious that it's grossly unfair that he's been left out? No.

Who does Gatland leave out?

If you pick Sean Maitland then which of George North, Anthony Watson, Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell are you leaving out? All of those guys deserve to travel.

Eight-times capped England centre Ben Te'o's inclusion is a talking point but if there is one player who has cause to feel aggrieved there, it's Garry Ringrose of Leinster and Ireland, not any of the Scottish centres.

Finn Russell (and England's George Ford) missed out in favour of Jonathan Sexton, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar at 10. There is a case to be made for Russell ahead of Biggar, but it's not one you'd go to war over. Neither is the omission of Greig Laidlaw. It's a touch contentious, but not controversial.

Scotland's Finn Russell
Russell, who made his debut in 2014, had an impressive Six Nations in 2017

The hookers come into the same category. In this space Fraser Brown may have been picked, but Gatland is employed to do what he thinks he needs to do and he's gone down a different road.

Rory Best is Ireland's captain, Jamie George is terrific off the bench and Ken Owens has had a decent season with Wales. Dylan Hartley, Brown and Sean Cronin, another great impact hooker, miss out. How loudly can anybody protest about Gatland's chosen three? Murmurings, sure, but it's hardly cause for revolution.

Scotland have been unlucky at tight-head prop. WP Nel surely would have gone had he been fit. Zander Fagerson had a case. He's the type of player who would have grown in stature while surrounded by Lions. Tadhg Furlong, Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler are hard to object to.

It's debatable whether the Lions have ever had such a collection of quality locks. Include a Gray - Jonny or Richie - but who do you leave out? Alun Wyn Jones, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis or Ian Henderson - a player who just put in a thumping performance in derailing the English chariot in Dublin?

Joe Launchbury hasn't made it either. Launchbury has probably more cause to feel hard done by than either Gray, as good as the brothers have been. Donnacha Ryan, the Munster and Ireland forward, hasn't made it either. Ryan played from the start when Ireland beat New Zealand in Chicago and again when they beat England last month.

Now to the back row. CJ Stander, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Peter O'Mahony are among the chosen ones who have played blind-side flanker in the Six Nations. If you're picking John Barclay, you may have to lose one of them. Who?

Lions head coach Warren Gatland
Gatland is taking charge of his second Lions tour

At open-side flanker, the selected ones are Sean O'Brien and Justin Tipuric, with Warburton available at seven as well. Hamish Watson is arguably the Scot with the biggest case. He was outstanding during the Six Nations, Alun Wyn Jones singling him out for praise for the demolition job he did on the Welsh breakdown.

But is it unfair that he's not picked - or just unlucky that so many other superb players are in his position? James Haskell also misses out. At number eight, Ross Moriarty has been picked, which was a major surprise. He had some high-profile successes, mainly his excellent performance against England, but he was tamed easily at Murrayfield.

Is there much to choose between Moriarty and Ryan Wilson? Not really. But then you look at Jamie Heaslip - a former Ireland captain, a three-time European champion, a two-time Six Nations champion and a winner against the All Blacks in November - being left out and wonder who has the biggest gripe here?

These are Gatland's calls based on what he thinks he needs to win a series in the most unforgiving terrain in world rugby. There's no stitch-up here, no agenda. In June, into July, will we know if his judgement was right.

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