The Herald on Sunday

Ritchie bounces back After Gatland blow

- Stuart Bathgate

THE sudden swings of fortune in profession­al sport were brought home to Jamie Ritchie in stark fashion this month, when he was left out of the British & Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa, then almost immediatel­y asked to captain Scotland for the first time.

The Edinburgh forward admits that omission from Warren Gatland’s final squad of 37 was, and remains, a blow, especially as he had been part of a larger group of players sent an email by the Lions asking if he would be available for the tour.

But he is now more than ready to lead the national team in what he sees as an exciting and challengin­g summer schedule – an “A” internatio­nal against England next Sunday, then full Test matches in July against Romania and Georgia.

“I was obviously really disappoint­ed on the day,” Ritchie said about that exclusion from the Lions. “Leading up to that I just thought it was nice to be in the mix. It was pretty cool to get the email and have people chatting about you. But as the day grew closer and closer, I started to think that I really wanted to go.

“Then the day came, and I wasn’t picked. I’m happy that I was considered, still disappoint­ed not to be selected. But then Gregor asked me to captain the summer tour, so it was a real honour for me and I’m really excited about doing that.”

The Lions have already had to make one change to their squad because of injury, and history suggests they are likely to need a good few more during the tour itself.

“I was told to stay fit, but whether it means I’m on standby or not I don’t know,” Ritchie said. “I don’t wish injury on anyone, so for their sake I hope I don’t get called out. If it does happen, I’ll obviously be delighted. But I’m very much focused on Scotland’s summer tour at the moment.”

The game that starts the tour has not been given the status of a full internatio­nal, and the 24- year- old admitted he was unsure what approach the England camp would take. Nonetheles­s, he insisted he is determined to prepare for it as meticulous­ly as ever.

“With it being an England team, I think they’ll be very much set-piece-focused. But because it’s an A game they may throw it around a bit more. We don’t really know what to expect. So we’ll treat it like we do all our games – as if it’s a Test match.”

We do know what to expect from Ritchie, however, both on and off the field. Since emerging as arguably Scotland’s most impressive performer at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, he has become an increasing­ly important leader within the national squad. And, having captained Scotland at Under-18 and Under-20 level, he was the obvious choice to take charge of the senior side for this series of games, even though he believes that this time round there are novel difference­s given the make-up of the squad.

“At Under-18s and Under20s they were your peers and you knew them really well,” he said. “It will be a bit more of a challenge on this one as there will be guys I’ve not met before or who haven’t been in that environmen­t before.”

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