That does not mean his judgement is unquestionable. He is, for instance, a strong, even a fanatical supporter of the divisional championship. Anyone who wants to prolong that miserable competition is suspect in my eyes.
I certainly cannot see the point of announcing a Lions super-squad of 62 at this stage of the season. The English players will, or ought to be, thinking principally of their encounter with France in 11 days' time and then of their visit to Cardiff. The Welsh will have their attention solely on that match. The Scots and the Irish will be wondering which of them will be able to salvage something from the season when they meet at Murrayfield.
Admittedly, we knew the announcement was going to be made, though it was believed that the squad would number around 60. It is interesting that the final party is to be of 35 players instead of the conventional 30. Someone must have a lot of money to spend on air fares and hotel rooms.
The people who tend to get injured on these tours are the half-backs, scrum-halves, particularly. There is obviously a case for taking three outside-halves and three scrum-halves, so increasing the strength of the party to 32. There is an even stronger case, in my opinion, for accommodating the extra half-backs by taking only seven threequarters - wings are invariably underemployed - and five back-row forwards, so retaining the traditional 30. The extra five players will inevitably lead to enforced idleness and justifiable resentment.
But it was not only Cotton that was involved. So also was his assistant, Ian McGeechan, now of Northampton. McGeechan was a good Lions centre who has turned himself into an outstanding coach. He is also, by all accounts (for I have never had the pleasure of meeting him), a most engaging character.
Certainly he has - how can one put this tactfully? - not been ungenerous to his charges at Franklins Gardens. Nick Beal, Jonathan Bell, Gregor Townsend, Paul Grayson and Tim Rodber are all in the squad. Matt Dawson and Martin Bayfield, both currently out of favour with the English selectors, are likewise recalled to service. Matt Stewart and Allen Clarke must feel disappointed at being left out of things?
And what of the players who have been left out with rather less justification expected to do with themselves over the next six weeks? Cotton was quoted as saying: "The selection process will continue for another four to six weeks and there is still plenty of time for other players to force their way into the reckoning."
But how does Cotton think Jonathan Davies feels? I am old enough to believe that sentiment should still have a place in rugby union football. To play for the Lions was Davies's one remaining ambition. If he is not included in a squad of 62, what chance does he have of making the final party of 35? And yet, to include him not only in a Lions party but in the Test side - whether as full-back or as outside-half - would not be an exercise in sentiment merely. It would greatly alarm the South Africans as well.
If you think this an example of pro-Welsh bias, of which I am occasionally accused by my readers, I should add that I consider Gareth Thomas distinctly lucky to be chosen as a wing. Despite his excellent try in the corner against France, he is not quite fast enough. The same might be said of Simon Geoghegan, but it is still good to see him back. I thought he had disappeared into that black hole at Bath which has already claimed Brian Ashton and John Hall.
About Phil de Glanville's omission, I am afraid I cannot become worked up. Will Greenwood, Scott Gibbs, Jonathan Bell and the unavailable Will Carling are all his superior at inside centre. On form, the best centre pairing is now Greenwood and Allan Bateman, whose merits I spotted before anyone else simply by watching him at Richmond. I am glad that Craig Quinnell is joining his brother Scott and mystified that Tony Underwood and Jon Sleightholme, the best wing in Europe after Emile Ntamack, are omitted. But I still cannot see the purpose of the whole exercise, which I think will do more harm than good.Reuse content