Townsend insists Lions role would be a ‘privilege’

Gregor Townsend - Scotland head rugby coach

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend said it would be a “huge privilege and honour” if he was asked to be part of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions coaching staff in South Africa next summer. 

Townsend was approached by the former Wales Head Coach in 2017 about being part of the backroom staff for the tour to New Zealand, but turned down the opportunity, instead leading Scotland on their summer tour – his first matches as Scotland boss. 

Last week, Townsend – part of the victorious 1997 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa – asked if he’d take a similar stance this time round, should Gatland come calling. 

“I’m not sure if I’ll get asked this time after saying no last time, but it was different circumstances then, with it being my first opportunity to coach Scotland.”

Townsend also believes “a lot” of his squad put their hands up for selection in Gatland’s touring party, but admits it is a blow that they won’t get to test themselves against the world champion Springboks, and the All Blacks, this summer. 

“It’s disappointing for them as individuals and us as a team that we don’t get to play South Africa and New Zealand on our summer tour – that was going to be the toughest, most challenging tour I’ve ever seen for a Scotland team – but it would have been a good marker for where we were as a team, where individuals are.

Jamie Ritchie has played his way into contention for a British & Irish Lions tour spot. 
Image credit: Fotosport/David Hibson

“Obviously 12 months ahead of the Lions going to South Africa, Scotland was the country that was going to be touring there so playing well in those games would have put our players in a fair position.

Townsend continued: “Who knows, maybe that tour will go ahead later in the year and our players just have to play the games in front of them and impress a coaching group that will want to see them in the most difficult situations – away games in the Six Nations, play-off games and PRO14 knock-out games in Europe. 

“If our players can excel in those games, they’ll have more chance of getting on that Lions tour.”

Tom Smith is the last Scot to start a Lions Test match, against Australia in 2001, and Townsend – like all Scots – will no doubt hope one of his current crop can change that in South Africa next summer. 

The Scotland Head Coach is looking forward to the tour, whatever his role. 

“I think everybody in rugby will be excited about the Lions this time next year – let’s hope we’ve had a full season of international rugby and everything is back to normal so we can have a good Lions series,” he said.

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