From Warriors to Lions
It's arguably the most fabled group in rugby union. A rare and exclusive club that only the elite may be privileged enough to join.
Dripping in history, the unmistakable red jersey of the British and Irish Lions is the pinnacle for any player. Every four years, the four home nations come together to take on the best the southern hemisphere has to offer, creating history as they go.
Throughout the professional history of Glasgow Warriors, a chosen few have earned selection for the Lions and taken their chance to carve their own names into the history books. Ahead of the 2021 pride opening their tour against Japan at BT Murrayfield this afternoon, we sat down with the Warriors that became Lions…
2021 British and Irish Lions tourist
“I don’t think it’ll fully sink in for a while! It’s a real dream come true for me. I honestly never thought that I’d be here when I made my Scotland debut a few years ago. It’s the ultimate goal for any player that represents the four nations. I’m absolutely delighted and I can’t wait to get started.
“I just wanted to be on my own regardless of whether the news was good or bad, really. Whatever came my way, I wanted to just have that moment to deal with it myself. It’s only when your name is read out and the messages start coming in that you realise what you’ve managed to achieve. It’s pretty emotional, I won’t lie!
“I was really glad when they said they’d call the backs first! I was trying to keep track of everyone as they were going through the squad. To be able to add my name to the list of brilliant Scottish scrum-halves that have represented the Lions is such a huge honour – it just adds to how special it is.”
British and Irish Lion #813, 2017
“I was actually out for lunch with Richie Vernon when I found out I was selected! We’d had to postpone a lunch together previously and we’d organised it without giving any thought to it being the same day as the squad announcement. To be honest, I was pretty happy to have something to distract me – I just wanted to be busy. Funnily enough, Ali [Price] was sitting a couple of tables over from us watching it on his phone, and he made a gesture to RV when my name was read out. RV went off big time, and that’s how I found out!
“You’d be lying if you were a player playing international rugby in the year leading up to a Lions tour and you said you didn’t think about potentially being selected. You’re very aware that it’s coming up and you’re realistically going to be in contention by virtue of playing well for your country. Personally, I was probably consciously trying not to think about it – I was desperate to go, but I didn’t want it to be the overriding thought and start affecting my form. It’s the pinnacle though – it’s what you dream about as a player.
“It’s amazing to sit down with guys that you’ve gone toe-to-toe with for club and country. There are guys now that you’ve managed to build up a great rapport with because of that tour, so you’re able to reach out and speak to them whenever they reach a milestone or so on. It’s an amazing experience and you form that camaraderie – that’s one of the most special things about touring with the Lions.
“That first meeting as a squad – it’s really surreal that you’re sat in that room with the best players from the four countries. Standing in front of my shirt ahead of my first game, too, knowing that you’re about to become a Lion, that’s such a special moment. As a winger, being able to score in that shirt is a massive privilege and honour. It brings home to you how special and unique the Lions is as a concept – even the little moments and small details stick with you forever.”
British and Irish Lion #713, 2001 and 2005
“To represent the Lions was fabulous. It was an outstanding opportunity to go and mix with players you’d only ever get the chance to play against if it wasn’t for the Lions – guys like Keith Wood, Martin Johnson and Rob Howley. It was the absolute pinnacle of my career. To get two Test caps for the Lions off the bench means so much to me.
“I’ve been confident in Glasgow players being selected in the past and it hasn’t panned out! I’m hopeful for 2021 though. That’d be a massive boost to Scottish rugby from grassroots to the professional game to have the Glasgow boys – and Scottish boys generally – selected for the Tests.”
British and Irish Lion #781, 2013
“Being selected for the Lions is the highest honour in the game. Along with representing your country, it’s the ultimate you can achieve. It’s a very proud moment for any player and their family – you’re joining a rare and historic group of players.
“I was in my flat in Glasgow with my dad when I found out I was selected [in 2013]. It was hugely nerve-wracking, but it was such a good feeling when my name was read out.
“There aren’t really any standout moments for me from that tour, it was just a brilliant experience all-round. There was a really great social element to the tour – it was a good group of boys who worked hard on the field and were really closely-knit off it. We were obviously fortunate enough to win the series that year in pretty emphatic fashion, and it was some way to finish off a really brilliant tour.
“You’re taking the field with guys that you’ve played against a lot over the years, so it’s good to get to know them in that environment. I’m still in touch with guys like Dan Lydiate and Johnny Sexton, and I had a good catch-up with Jamie Roberts before the Dragons game [in May]. It’s like no time has passed at all every time you see those guys.
“Our boys have a huge opportunity this year. The Scottish lads in the squad are more than capable of nailing down a starting spot for the Tests, and I really hope they go and do the country and their clubs proud. I’ll be proudly cheering them on from home!”
British and Irish Lion #659, 1993 and 2001
“The Lions is such a special moment in any player’s career. For me in 2001, I’d captained Scotland in the Six Nations that year and I thought I had a chance of going on the tour. That didn’t materialise though, but the Lions are something that you feel like you have to be involved in no matter how.
“When I wasn’t selected, I was given the chance to lead a supporters’ tour to Australia and I thought it was too good a chance to turn down. I’d just turned 30 so I knew I was getting close to the end of my career. It was a hell of a party. I think I’d been drinking for 20 days before getting the call from Donal Lenihan [tour manager] and being told I might be required to sit on the bench for the third and deciding Test! I was booked in to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and at 11pm the night before the Test I was on top of the Bridge – the following day I’m on the bench in a deciding Test match. The irony is that as a result I’m a two-time Lion – I give Gregor a lot of stick about that since he only toured once!
“I’ve been hugely impressed by Zander’s development, as have a lot of observers. There isn’t one standout candidate at scrum-half at the minute either, so if Ali hits some form then he’s right in the reckoning.”
2021 British and Irish Lions tourist
“I’m absolutely over the moon to have been selected. It’s crazy – it’s not really sunk in yet. It’s a lifelong dream of mine and to hear my name read out is just such an incredible feeling.
“You think about all of the people that have got you to this point, really. My mum and dad made a lot of sacrifices to travel with me all over the place, Andy Henderson at school was massive for me and Yasmine and the kids mean everything to me. That’s the most special part of it for me – being able to repay everyone for all of those sacrifices. It’s all been worth it. The first hurdle is out of the way, now it’s all about competing for a place in that Test team.
“I called Yasmine and the kids straight after the news, they were out in the park and watched the announcement on Yasmine’s phone. When my name got called out, yeah, they lost it! I could barely get my lunch down, to be honest – it was an honour to even be in consideration. To be able to share that moment with my team-mates, the guys you go to battle with every week, that was a great feeling.”