Some players are born to be Lions, and then there is Tommy Seymour. When the wing was let go by Ulster as a 23-year-old in 2011, to foresee his inclusion in the Lions squad he would have required an imagination of Walter Mittyesque proportions. Even his stellar performances for Scotland over the past three years did not change his mindset. Indeed, pulling on the red shirt has been so far from his mind that he had agreed to meet a team-mate for a coffee in Glasgow’s West End at the time of the squad announcement.
“I was at lunch with Richie Vernon when the team was announced,” he laughs, “just having lunch with a friend and relaxing. Ali Price and Finn Russell were in the corner of the coffee shop, and suddenly they started signalling to Richie and he just exploded. My phone started going off and then Ryan Wilson walked in out of the blue and started going mental round the coffee shop. I was just sitting there feeling a bit half-nauseous, sick, sweating, and then Hoggy came and picked me up and I was whisked to Murrayfield.”
When asked how it felt to have come so far since moving to Glasgow, Seymour was quick to pick up on the faux delicacy underlying the question. “As an Ulster reject? Is that what you were going to say?” he shot back. “Yeah, I don’t think many people could have written this path for me. I never expected it in a million years because when leaving a club at that age because you’re surplus to requirements it puts doubts in your head. I don’t think anyone that young moving clubs could have thought along these lines.”
Yet Seymour’s performances for Scotland since his debut against South Africa in 2013 have been remarkable for their consistency. His try-scoring record at Test level is not sensational, with 16 tries in 36 tests, but he tends to go on try-scoring streaks – he scored seven tries in eight World Cup and Six Nations games in 2015-16 – while he invariably impresses on the biggest stage. He remains one of the best wings under the high ball in the world, and in attack he and Stuart Hogg possess an almost telepathic understanding that can unlock any defence.
His experience against New Zealand has been limited to one game at Murrayfield in November 2014 when Greig Laidlaw missed a penalty to put Scotland 19-17 ahead with 15 minutes remaining, only for a late Colin Slade try to see the All Blacks win 24-16. Yet Seymour impressed with his strong running, some astute defence and one of his trademark interception tries.
But if anything, the Lions have already had more of an impact on Seymour’s career than the All Blacks. A real son of these islands – he grew up in Nashville, Dubai and outside Belfast, playing Ireland age-grade rugby but opting for Scotland thanks to his Glaswegian mother – as a youngster at Ulster he was inspired by Stephen Ferris’s call-up for the Lions, and at Glasgow Sean Maitland’s selection by Warren Gatland four years ago proved to be Seymour’s big chance.
“I remember four years ago when Hoggy was first picked for the Lions,” he says. “We were all in the changing room watching it and I had yet to get my first cap, and I was hopeful that Sean Maitland would be picked so that there would be a wing spot for the [Scotland] tour. That’s how I ended up getting my first cap. It’s amazing to look back on that journey now.”