British & Irish Lions: Scots pushing harder than in 2013 - Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland names his British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand on 19 April

Warren Gatland says Scotland's resurgence has made his squad selection for this summer's British and Irish Lions tour tougher than four years ago.

Gatland led the Lions to a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013, with Richie Gray the only Scot to taste Test action as a replacement in the third Test.

"I watched Scotland train on Wednesday and I was impressed," said the Kiwi ahead of the 10-match New Zealand tour.

"What I saw four years ago to what I saw this time there was no comparison."

After years of struggling to score tries and secure wins against the top sides in the tournament, Scotland have discovered a cutting edge in attack that has helped them beat Ireland and Wales in this Six Nations.

Gatland believes having the Scots back competing with the traditional heavyweights of England, France, Wales and Ireland is good for the Six Nations and the Lions.

"In the last couple of years we've seen the resurgence of Scottish rugby," the Lions head coach told BBC Scotland.

"Having won two of their first three Six Nations games, it's great for the competition.

Finn Russell, George Ford
Gatland is looking forward to seeing who prevails in the anticipated battle of the fly-halves - Scotland's Finn Russell and England's George Ford

"You want to feel like when you go into a Six Nations competition with a bit of luck and a couple of results anybody has a chance of winning it.

"You want a good representation from a Scottish contingent of players. It's important for the brand, it's important for the Lions and you want Scotland to be going well to enable that to happen. The next couple of weeks they've got a couple of important games."

The Scots face an England side on Saturday looking to equal the All Blacks' international record of 18 consecutive Test victories for a tier-one nation. Gatland says it will be an important test of the Scottish players' Lions credentials at Twickenham.

"Scotland need a good performance away from home. We're going to have a close, competitive game, there's a huge amount at stake.

"For us as coaches and selectors, you're going to get 50/50 calls and you're going to get a toss of the coin. So how those players perform in the next couple of weeks is going to make the difference to them being selected or not selected for the tour.

Scots in last six original Lions squads
1993: 7 (Kenny Milne, Peter Wright, Paul Burnell, Damian Cronin, Andy Reed, Scott Hastings, Gavin Hastings) + 1 temp rep (Andy Nicol)2005: 3 (Gordon Bulloch, Simon Taylor, Chris Cusiter) + 1 rep (Jason White)
1997: 5 (Tom Smith, Doddie Weir, Rob Wainwright, Gregor Townsend, Alan Tait) + 1 rep (Tony Stanger)2009: 2 (Euan Murray, Nathan Hines) + 2 pre-tour reps (Ross Ford, Mike Blair)
2001: 3 (Tom Smith, Scott Murray, Simon Taylor) + 2 reps (Gordon Bulloch, Andy Nicol)2013: 3 (Richie Gray, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg) + 1 rep (Ryan Grant)

"I don't think it's all about the result this weekend for Scotland, it's about the performance. The thing for the Lions is you're playing away from home every four years against normally one of the top three teams in the world with limited preparation time, limited time together, gelling as a squad as quickly as you possibly can. So it's the type of characters and individuals in the squad, that becomes important."

After a man-of-the-match performance against Wales, Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has been touted as a potential Lion and Gatland admits he is looking forward to seeing the Glasgow number 10 go up against England's George Ford.

"I'm looking forward to that battle," Gatland added.

"I thought Russell played pretty well against France. He challenged the line, his footwork was good and he was unlucky in almost making a couple of breaks. I was really impressed with him in a losing side.

"The performance against Wales was a little bit more controlling. Obviously his goal-kicking was significant and made a difference having taken over from Greig Laidlaw.

"I'm looking forward to the midfield battle as well. Scotland at the moment in certain positions have discovered a bit of depth. Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser obviously had a really good game against Wales and Sean Maitland is knocking on the door having played pretty well and playing well for Saracens. Obviously Stuart Hogg has been pretty outstanding from an attacking perspective.

"In the forwards the two Gray brothers (Richie and Jonny) have been performing well and the back row will fancy themselves against an England back row that you would sometimes still question the balance of.

"It's a lot to play for and it's great for me because I just look at all the battles, all the match-ups and who responds. It's a massive weekend for Scotland because if they win they potentially set themselves up for the championship."

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