THE Scotland rugby squad has rallied round prop Ryan Grant after he was again overlooked by the British and Irish Lions coaches and insist it will be their loss and Scots’ gain.
Grant has been one of the form props in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season and stood out as one of Scotland’s top performers in the RBS Six Nations. Yet Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree opted to take England props Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens, who have played little Test rugby recently, and this week called up Alex Corbisiero as cover for the injured Cian Healy, despite the England cap having not played since November due to a knee injury.
Matt Taylor, the Scotland defence coach, spoke to the media yesterday and made no attempt to defend his Lions counterparts.
“I was very disappointed that he [Grant] did not get a call-up,” he said. “The way he performed in the Six Nations he can count himself a bit unlucky. The thing about Ryan is that he is the kind of player who says ‘I have a job here to do with Scotland and the Test match to play’. That is what I love about the bloke. That is just his nature, his upbringing or his army background maybe, but he just gets on with it.
“I am really disappointed that he has not got a shot and, although I am not selecting the Lions team, he deserves to be there.
“In the RaboDirect and the Heineken Cup he has shown he can scrummage with the best in the world. He is the type of guy who gets better and better at the next level. Being around the best players in the Northern Hemisphere, I think, he would have got even better. That try he scored [for Glasgow] against the Ospreys showed how mobile he is and how versatile he is, but he is also a very good scrummager and a very good defender.
“All coaches, when you see your player – and I see him in both club and country programmes – you form a bias, because you know them better than other people know them.
“The guy Corbisiero who has been picked, Graham Rowntree knows him very well and would see a lot of things I would not see. So I am gutted for Ryan and he is disappointed though he does not really show it, but I don’t pick the Lions team.”
Taylor swiftly dismissed the suggestion that it could have an adverse affect on Grant on the Scotland tour, insisting that he is a strong character and so there was no need for coaches to talk him through the disappointment. He believes instead that it will fuel Grant’s desire to prove his worth against Samoa at King’s Park tomorrow. “It won’t affect him adversely. He is one of my favourite players because he is a tough guy who gets on with it, doesn’t complain, doesn’t whinge. His take on it was: ‘I didn’t get the call so I will just get on with playing well for Scotland’
“He is looking forward to playing this Test match against Samoa and I think you will probably find that he will play above his standard, which is very good.
“It is like anything in life. When you are disappointed, you want to prove people wrong. He is a proud player, a proud bloke who will go out and perform for his country and remind them that he is a capable player.”
With three uncapped players and one, stand-off Tom Heathcote, making his first start, Grant is probably the last player Taylor will be fretting about, acknowledging that the Samoans will seek to hand Heathcote a typically brutal South Seas welcome.
“He will have a good challenge and, yes, I am sure they will try to target him – most teams attack down the fly-half channel but he knows that and has worked pretty hard.
“But we are very confident in the new guys, which is why we have chosen them to start. They have all been performing really, really well and now have the opportunity to step up at international level.
“I have been lucky enough to coach three of their [Samoa’s] squad, so have been lucky enough to see them up close and they are exceptional players and good ball-carriers, so it is going to be difficult for us. But we have had a good two weeks of solid preparation and a couple of their players only came in on Tuesday morning. Having said that, they play heads-up rugby, and, if you let them do that, they are very hard to play. We have to make sure we don’t give them momentum.”
Taylor added: “Look at the IRB rankings where they are seventh and we are tenth so, in that respect, we are the underdogs. They are a very good team and a proud rugby nation so we are going to have to be at our best.”