British and Irish Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan has backed a host of Scotland stars for selection in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad for the 2021 tour to South Africa.
The Leeds-born former fly half, 74, was speaking to ruck.co.uk as part of Vodafone’s new British & Irish Lions initiative, which uses gaming technology to transform fans into ‘Digital Lions’ via the new 2021 Lions Tour app.
Scottish stars were thin on the ground in the past two tour squads for 2013 and 2017, but McGeechan is confident Finn Russell can lead a host of more further Scottish selections this time around, especially while playing rugby they have produced under Gregor Townsend, one of McGeechan’s Lions stars back in the late 1990s.
“I think Gregor will be very pleased with what players have achieved,” he explained when reflecting on the progress Scotland have made since Townsend’s arrival in 2017.
“They probably should have won in Dublin (against Ireland), to win in Italy not concede, then win in France shows they have changed. They’ve been good off the ball – I think that’s been the biggest step forward for Scotland.
“Scotland haven’t always had a strong group which I think is important. They were playing so poorly in 2009 that it was hard to justify selecting players (for the Lions).
“I would take Finn Russell,” added McGeechan of the 28 year old who was called up as cover for the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand but didn’t play a Test match.
“I think you need a pack of forwards that can compete.
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“I think Jamie Ritchie in the back row has been outstanding, he’s competitive, big and a natural ball carrier and I like Sam Johnson too.
“Jonny Gray has come on with Exeter as well.”
Stuart Hogg – one of those rare Scottish Lions picks from the past decade – and Gray have proven to be crucial parts of the Exeter Chiefs machine as they impressively won both the Premiership and Champions Cup over the past few weeks.
Internationally, they have proven their worth too as they helped Scotland to their first Six Nations win on the road in Wales since 2002 last Saturday.
McGeechan believes their experience – and success – in playing knockout rugby will prove crucial when it comes to touring South Africa, and could play a part in Head Coach Warren Gatland’s selection process.
He said: “When you get into the knockout stages of a game and you are getting to semi-finals and then finals, there is a slightly different environment, there is a different challenge.
“Often, you have the confidence to still play and the situation doesn’t control you, you control the situation.
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“That is the biggest answer you need from players to win a Lions Test,” McGeechan added.
“I would call them Test match animals because they are different. They are prepared, under extreme pressure, to still do the things that matter and I think the more cup final experience they have, then the more you get an understanding of what is required.
“For me, without a doubt, having those experiences and opportunities are actually really important for the Scottish players in particular.
“There are now genuine conversations to be had in terms of selecting Scottish players which you couldn’t have had in 2009 when I was involved.”
Sir Ian McGeechan is part of Vodafone’s new British & Irish Lions initiative, which uses gaming technology to transform fans into ‘Digital Lions’ via the new 2021 Lions Tour app on iOS and Android.
The new official Lions app will offer a range of interactive features, including the ‘Digital Lion’, a fully-animated virtual avatar tool developed using the same technology seen in Fortnite and FIFA.
The ‘Digital Lions’ feature, a first within rugby, will enable fans to interact both with Lions players past and present, and with other fans.
The personalised ‘Digital Lions’ created by supporters will be the first to wear the new British & Irish Lions jersey when it is revealed and fans will be able to share their avatars across social media and messaging platforms. They’ll also be able to bring their avatar to life in 3D augmented reality and choose from a range of animation options.
In the coming weeks fans will also discover news ways to personalise their ‘Digital Lion’ and they will be able to base their avatar on a number of traditional player positions – for example, prop, second row or scrum-half.
“I’ve found it, great,” McGeechan said of the app.
“To see some of digital technology now is fascinating – I was impressed that I was allowed to play alongside Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton!
“For me it’s very interesting and a great development.”
Download the Official Lions App now on the Apple Store or Google Play Store.
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RANKED | Sir Ian McGeechan lists his top 5 rugby wingers of all time
5. Jason Robinson (England)
“He made such an impact on the game when moving from rugby league. He had dazzling feet that meant he so often beat the first defender and, like most top wingers, you could play off him as well as him being such a devastating finisher.”