Sports

How British Are You, Bro? An Ex-NRL Star Has Been Named in The Lions Squad - And It Sucks

There are only two Scots in the Lions. More players born in New Zealand's North Island are in the squad.
April 20, 2017, 10:58pm
Official British & Irish Lions Instagram

There was a time not too long ago when Scottish rugby formed the beating heart of the British and Irish Lions touring squad.

Plucky halfback Mike Campbell-Lamerton - a Korean War veteran – led the Lions on their 1966 tour Down Under, while legendary Scottish prop John 'Mighty Mouse' McLauchlan was one of the cult heroes from the famed side to tour New Zealand in 1971. That team remains the only Lions to defeat the All Blacks in a test series.

Advertisement

From 1983 to 1997, Scots Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan coached five straight Lions tours. Gavin Hastings, the much-admired Edinburgh fullback, captained the '93 tour to New Zealand.

Yesterday, the British & Irish Lions squad to tour Aoteroa in June and July this year was announced. Virtually completing the setting sun on Scottish involvement in Lions rugby, only two Scots were named in the team; fullback Stuart Hogg and winger Tommy Seymour, both of Gasglow. Most likely, only Hogg will play in the three tests.

Coach Warren Gatland – a Kiwi who was the boss of the most recent Lions tour, to South Africa, in 2013 – actually selected more people from New Zealand's North Island than those North of the Border.

The British and Irish Lions press conference to announce the touring squad to New Zealand. Source: Official British and Irish Lions Youtube Channel.

Hulking England prop Mako Vunipola was born in Wellington, Irish utility Jared Payne hails from Tauranga – and former NRL star Ben Te'o was born in Auckland.

The decline of Scots in the Lions since the 1993 tour to New Zealand has been palpable. Eight Scotland internationals toured New Zealand that year; the same amount that head to Australia (2009) and South Africa (2013) in the side's last two tours combined. This year marks a nadir, and the Kiwi coach has already faced scalding criticism for it.

"Gatland doesn't have a good track record in liking people from Scotland," McLauchlan told the UK's Daily Telegraph.

Advertisement

"When he was asked on television whether there were any Scots in the running, he said 'there's Hogg and the new boy at centre, and one of the wingers looked quite good.' He couldn't name then."

True, the Scots have been woeful for most of the last decade, but the last couple of years have seen a serious up-swing. Quarter-finalists at the last Rugby World Cup, Scotland beat Ireland and Wales in this season's Six Nations. Ireland have 11 Lions this year, and Wales has 12.

Jonny Gray, the Scottish captain and key lock, industrious flanker Hamish Watson and rising superstar prop Zander Fagerson couldn't get a guernsey, but Te'o – a Kiwi/Aussie league player through-and-through – could.

Te'o moved to the UK less than three years ago to pursue a big money English rugby contract. A youth league rep for New Zealand, Teo'o played 151 first-grade games for the Tigers, Bronos and Rabbitohs – and notched up seven Origin caps for Queensland between 2012 and 2014.

The 30-year-old life-long leaguie admitted surprise for his selection, and revealed how low the Lions were down his sporting fantasy totem pole.

"As a rugby league player, my dream was to win a competition and to play State of Origin," he told media yesterday.

"To be picked in the Queensland State of Origin team at the time was unbelievable. And I just got that same feeling again."

Let's be frank, international eligibility laws in rugby are a total joke. Outside the Springboks, you'll find Kiwi-born players in every single international squad on the rugby planet. Look at the squads from the 2015 Rugby World Cup and you'll find New Zealanders in the Australian, English, Irish, Scottish, Japanese, Romanian, Italian, Tongan, Samoan, and Fijian sides.

Advertisement

It's not a new thing, either. Brazenly, former Kiwis league outside backs Lesley 'The Volcano' Vanikolo and Henry Paul were drafted into the English set-up in the mid-2000s. Rules that were a shocker then remain unlocked gates now. Te'o's selection for the Lions tour shows that.

You can understand why Kiwis are drafted into other international sides; they're simply, usually, the best players available.

New Zealand's dominance of world rugby isn't just by virtue of the All Blacks, their mythology and unbelievable winning record. It is New Zealand's overall cultural approach to rugby, coaching mentality required to succeed and team culture that spread to every corner of the rugby universe.

Seven of the twenty coaches at the last World Cup were Kiwis. Now, you'll find Brazilians anywhere there is a football being kicked competitively. Yet the world has not seen that many great Brazilian football coaches, nor has the very framework around footballing success had a Brazilian template. Rugby, with New Zealand, is different. Everything has a black frame to it now.

It certainly makes for great rugby to watch, but what price do you put on tradition? The Lions tour is arguably the holiest experiences still remaining in rugby; a hangover to the amateur and semi-pro time when international sides would get on a boat, sail to the other side of the world and played thirty plus games in some faraway land. The very mythology of the All Black jumper was founded in these experiences, as has been the 'elan' of the Lions one.

So when you see someone like Te'o – a total ring-in who has played more first-grade games of NRL for the Broncos than he has pro rugby, full-stop – you have to stop and scratch your head.

It's one thing to win a Lions tour, but it's another thing to truly represent the Lions. Gatland has been talking about the squad watching cult NZ movies like Boy or Hunt for the Wilderpeople to prepare for New Zealand, when guys like Payne or Te'o lived that essential Kiwi experience growing up. Trips to the marae, on this tour, won't be new to them.

It will be to Hogg and Seymour - or Gray, Watson and Fagerson had they got a shot.

The Scots have their best rugby season in arguably a decade and all they get is two Lions, a slap in the face from a New Zealand-born coach - and a former Kiwi Queensland Cane Toad taking up a seat on the plane. Bummer, man.