BRITISH and Irish Lions manager Andy Irvine is refusing to write off chances of Scottish playing representation on next summer’s tour of Australia.
A trio of defeats in the recent Autumn Tests, culminating in Scotland becoming the first home nation ever to lose to Tonga, has cast a pall over the Scottish game.
However, former Heriot’s and Scotland full-back Irvine refuses to be downcast – even though the next opponents are an England side still basking in the glory of bringing down world champions New Zealand.
“I actually think we might have a good Six Nations because sometimes when you have been booted and you are down you are determined to make up for it and come back with hunger and desire,” he said. “There is a fair chance our boys might bounce back. They will feel disappointed with their performance.”
Irvine points out that, prior to the last Lions tour, South Africa 2009, Scotland had a successful Autumn Test series but struggled in the Six Nations.
When suggesting that situation might be reversed this time round, Irvine said: “Look at England beating the All Blacks. England had taken such a kicking from the media (after losing to Australia) nobody was giving them much of a chance.
“Bookmakers were giving England a 17-point start and the English boys had had enough. They came out and took the game to New Zealand in no uncertain terms and – ironically –won the game by 17 points. For a straight win, they were 12/1 and made a mockery of those odds.”
The annual Calcutta Cup fixture launches the Six Nations on February 2 and Irvine even suggests it might be an ideal time to record a first win at Twickenham since 1983.
“Ironically, England will be so entrenched as firm favourites and, in that situation, sometimes complacency creeps in,” he said.
“You try and tell yourself not to be complacent but will England build up for Scotland the same as they did for the All Blacks? The coaches will be telling them to but Scotland don’t strike the same fear in them as the All Blacks and you can sometimes catch a team on the hop that way.
“I don’t want to go into individuals but there are certainly three or four players in Scotland who have the potential and talent to be Lions. I haven’t the slightest doubt but it will help a lot if they are playing in a winning side – starting against England.”
As for the continuing appeal of the Lions, Irvine acknowledges the importance of a first series win since the Springboks were toppled in 1997. The Lions have since lost series in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Irvine said: “At some point, the Lions are going to have to start winning because people won’t support them year after year if they lose.
“There is a lot of pressure on us to win down under. Admittedly we didn’t win in South Africa last time but we played some fantastic rugby and to be honest probably should have won.
“If that tour had been adjudicated by a boxing referee we probably would have been the better side but we probably didn’t take our chances. One game in particular came down to an error at the last second when all that was required was to put the ball into touch.
“What makes the Lions so magical? It is the level of competition. You have all the best in the four countries and therefore each player in the Six Nations will be desperate to shine to get on that plane.
“All these boys are competitive. Yes it is great to be selected for your national team but it is an even greater honour to be selected for the Lions because it is the best of the best.
“So the players themselves are desperate to be selected and on top of that you have 20-30,000 fans travelling down to Australia which shows the popularity.
“Last year when the schedule was announced I did a press conference with Robbie Deans, the Australian coach, and said to him ‘you are under the same pressure as ourselves with players leaving for France’.
“Matt Giteau had just become the latest Australian player to move but Robbie said ‘not one of our players will go because they are all desperate to play against the Lions. They only get that opportunity every 12 years but I am worried about what happens after the Lions tour. The best thing that could happen to Australian rugby is the Lions coming over. It means to much to our boys and to yours.’”
Irvine added: “Those remarks sum up, for me, the appeal of the Lions.”