The Sunday Post (Inverness)
Is there a Lions’ place at the end of the Rainbow?
Coach Warren Gatland announces his squad for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa on May 6.
After an impressive Six Nations Championship there must be more Scots than usual in the running for selection, but some hopes may have been dashed with Edinburgh and Glasgow’s exit from European competition. Players may yet have one more chance to impress the New Zealander, who clearly doesn’t hold Scottish rugby in particularly high regard. The Rainbow Cup, a new competition for Pro14 and South African teams, launches at the end of this month.
It is a final opportunity for Scottish players to impress and secure a seat on the plane to the southern hemisphere.
Cup is an interesting competition. It features the South African Super Rugby sides – the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions as well as all of the Pro14 teams.
The first three rounds consist of derby matches – with teams in each country playing each other.
Bizarrely, Italy have been grouped with Scotland for this set of matches, which begin on the April 24. There is then a two-week gap before the next round featuring Scottish teams – meaning that the Lions announcement will come after only one set of games. On the opening weekend,
Glasgow play Benneton and Edinburgh face Zebre. Neither fixture will offer players the intensity of an inter-city derby, which is a shame for them, because it is likely to be the last chance that they will have to impress the Lions coach. Hamish Watson, the player of the Six Nations, must be a certainty for the Lions, as must Scottish captain Stuart Hogg.
For either of these two not to be selected would be an absolute travesty.
Beyond that, there are a number of others who have shown their credentials, albeit they may not be quite as sure of selection.
Duhan van der Merwe is one, Chris Harris, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray are three others, although there are a number of Scots who could have forced their way into contention.
Yet there is a suspicion, that faced with a choice between a Welshman and a Scot for a place, Gatland will go for the Welsh player, whether he knows them well or not.
The intensity of an Ospreys versus Cardiff or Scarlets versus Dragons fixture are likely to be more competitive than the Scottish fixtures on the opening weekend of the Rainbow Cup.
The Rainbow Cup will also give Gatland the opportunity to check out his opposition – the reigning World Cup holders.
The South African sides will play the second set of matches in Europe against Pro14 sides – it will be the ideal scouting opportunity.
For Scots, there is one last throw of the dice to impress the Kiwi coach – they can’t let it go to waste.