SCOTLAND v FIJI, BT MURRAYFIELD, SATURDAY 10th NOVEMBER 2018.
Kick-off 2.30pm. Watch live on BT Sport and BBC.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (VC); Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw@; Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson (VC), Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson. Substitutes: Stuart McInally, Alex Allan, Simon Berghan, Jonny Gray, Josh Strauss, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris.
Fiji: Setareki Tuicuvu; Metui Talebula, Semi Radradra, Jale Vatabua, Vereniki Goneva; Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Campese Maafu, Sam Matavesi, Manasa Saulo, Tevita Cavubati, Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu©, Peceli Yato, Viliame Mata. Subs; Mesulame Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Kalivate Tawake, Albert Tuisue, Semi Kunatani, Henry Seniloli, Alivereti Veitokani, Eroni Vasiteri.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Mike Blair: Scotland can be street-wise when they need to be
Townsend confident that Hogg can hit the ground running against Fiji
Junior 1872 Cup: Edinburgh too strong for Glasgow Warriors
HAVING lost their opening match of this Autumn series in Wales last weekend, this game is vitally important for Scotland as they look to build momentum towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
They know they face a huge challenge against a dangerous team who were worthy winners the last time the two nations met in June 2017. That was in Fiji, while this one is on home territory, which undoubtedly gives Gregor Townsend’s team an advantage, but with 14 out of the 15 starting tourists now playing their club rugby in Europe, there is a real element of familiarity for the Fijians which perhaps did not exist the last time the two sides clashed at Murrayfield back in 2009.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has brought Stuart Hogg straight back into the starting XV, just seven weeks after we were told that he would be out for ten to 12 weeks recovering from ankle surgery. It is beyond doubt that the joint has healed, but big questions remain about how match-fit the 26-year-old can be, although the Scotland coach did point out the Hogg twice jumped straight back in at the deep end after fairly lengthy lay-offs last season and looked razor sharp on both occasions.
Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Peter Horne will be expected to provide some control form the inside back positions which was conspicuously missing in Wales last weekend, while Alex Dunbar – who has shifted out to outside centre – will be keen to make up for a decidedly shaky defensive performance seven days ago.
In the pack, Sam Skinner of Exeter Chiefs is handed his debut alongside Grant Gilchrist in the engine-room, while a reshuffle of the back-row sees Jamie Ritchie shift from blind-side to his primary position of open-side in place of the rested Hamish Watson, and Ryan Wilson takes over the number six jersey so that in-form Matt Fagerson can make his second international start at number eight.
Fraser Brown rotates into hooker with last week’s captain Stuart McInally dropping to the bench.
Fiji have within their ranks some of the biggest names in European club rugby at the moment, including Leone Nakawara, Peceli Yato and Viliame Mata in the pack, but they are missing a few big-time backs in Josua Tuisova and Nemani Nadolo.
WHAT THEY SAID –
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend on Fiji’s potential –
“I see them as similar to Brazilian football. They have the best natural rugby players, and they’re not just all in the back-line. We know that Leone Nakawara was voted the best player in Europe last year. Peceli Yato is a back row at Clermont – and must be one of the best back-row forwards in the world.”
“I believe they are becoming a major threat. I really believe – and I hope it’s not in the next couple of weeks – that they can beat any team in the world on their day. They could have a brilliant World Cup.”
Fiji coach John McKee on that comparison with Brazil –
“It is obviously a compliment to Fijian rugby players to have a comparison like that. If you look at the Fijian athlete, he is tall, fast and has a mentality suited to the combative nature of the game. They certainly enjoy the physical aspects of the game as well.
“The thing is, being a talented athlete is one thing, but it’s the work that we can put in that makes a team. Yes, we realise that we have got a talented group of players. You look at players playing in Europe now and a lot of them are really frontliners for their clubs and playing very well. Viliame Mata is a classic example – he has been in outstanding form for Edinburgh and is really developing into a world-class back-rower. And our local boys have just won the championship they play in the Australian competition. Against their peers in the Pacific area, they are certainly at the top of the tree.
“But being talented is one thing. It’s the work we need to do to make us competitive consistently against tier 1 nations is the big challenge we have. We don’t want it to be about tier 1 versus tier 2, we want to be competitive with anyone we play against when we run on the field.”
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw on how to frustrate Fijian exuberance –
“Keep the ball. That is one thing to do. They love running about and showing their skill sets but keeping the ball is one way. Make them tackle, make them tackle. We just carry, clean, carry, clean.
“Make them do a lot of work. That is one of the areas we have worked on strongly this week. When we do attack we hold on to the ball. When we kick, we kick smartly and make sure we have a connected chase. Because in broken fields they are the best team in the world so we have to limit their opportunities.
“If we hold the ball we can test their discipline, keep going at them and try and frustrate them. Our forwards have a big job. If we can get a handle on the upfront game first and foremost, that will give us an avenue into the game.”
Fiji coach John McKee on whether his team’s set-piece can stack up –
In international rugby, set-piece is the cornerstone of your game, and I think teams will look to target Fiji’s set-piece to try to gain an advantage – or try to upset our ball-winning. We’ve put a lot of work into our set-piece over a number of years now and I think we are quite a different team in the set-piece to maybe the Fijian teams were four or five years ago. Once again, we know Scotland will come hard at us in the set-piece but with the group of players we’ve got and the work we are putting in this week, we can match them in that area.
THREE KEY CLASHES –
Matt Fagerson v Viliame Mata
The 20-year-old Scotsman had a tough start to international rugby against the USA in Houston during the summer, when his most significant contribution was completely misjudging a high ball which allowed the opposition in for the game’s decisive score – but he returned to Glasgow Warriors, knuckled down, and was the team’s stand-out performer during October. He was a key figure at number eight when they went toe-to-toe with Saracens in a brutally physical, narrow loss at Scostoun, and again when they blasted their way past Cardiff Blues to jump right back into contention to qualify for the Champions Cup knock-out stages this season for only the second time ever.
Along the M8 corridor, Mata has been a towering presence for Edinburgh, to the extent that Richard Cockerill joked after the team’s victory over Toulon that his number eight had usurped his wife in his pecking order of favourite people.
Fagerson is not a big man for a ball-carrying back-row forward, but he has bulked up by about 10kgs in recent months without losing any of his acceleration and nimbleness. He also has incredible fitness and work-rate, which suits Scotland’s all-court approach to the game.
Four inches taller at 6ft 5ins and around 20kgs heavier at 116kgs, Mata has bulk on his side, and he doesn’t lack in athleticism and ball-playing ability, as you would expect from a Fijian back-row. His work-rate ain’t bad either: he recently made 28 carries for Edinburgh against Benetton, which is more than any other player in a PRO14 match since Opta started recording data during the 2010-11 season.
Greig Laidlaw v Frank Lomani
The Scotland scrum-half has a long history of being written off, stretching back to his earliest days at Edinburgh, by this who fail to recognise the importance of his unwavering determination, self-belief and rugby intelligence. So, it was interesting how few dissenting voices there were when it came to re-installing the 33-year-old Borderer to the side after he missed last week’s game because it fell outside the international window, with the value of his game management and all-round leadership highlighted by the way Scotland failed to get to grips with Wales’ ferocious defence without him in Cardiff.
Lomani played for Fijian Drua in their inaugural season playing in Australia’s National Rugby Championship earlier this year, helping them lift the title at the first time of asking, and his performances earned him a part-time contract with the Melbourne Rebels for the second half of the 2018 Super Rugby season. He has played a bit at full-back, where his dangerous broken field running can be put to good use. At scrum-half, he has a long flat pass, a powerful kicking game and isn’t shy of a tackle.
Finn Russell v Ben Volavola
There has been a lot of chat from the Scotland camp this week about playing sensible, structured rugby, and the potentially cataclysmic consequences of gifting the Flying Fijians turnover ball. Assistant coach Mike Blair discussed Russell’s growing maturity in the stand-off role yesterday, and it will be fascinating to see how that translates into a game where he will be surrounded by players on both sides who’s natural instinct is to throw caution to the wind.
Volavola was born in Australia to an Indian father and Fijian mother. He played Under-20s level for the Wallabies before throwing his lot in with Fiji in 2015 and has since amassed 25 caps, and kicked 17 points in the team’s famous victory over Scotland two summers ago. He played Super Rgby for the Waratahs, Crusaders and the Rebels, before signing for Racing 92 last summer – which, of course, makes him a club-mate of Russell, adding an intriguing sub-plot to this particular match-up..
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SCOTLAND’S RECORD AGAINST FIJI IN CAP INTERNATIONALS –
Played 7 – Won 5 – Drawn 0 – Lost 2
28 October 1989: Scotland 38 Fiji 17
16 May 1998: Fiji 51 Scotland 25
Six most recent matches
16 May 1998: Fiji 51 Scotland 25
24 November 2002: Scotland 36 Fiji 22
1 November 2003: Fiji 20 Scotland 22 (in Sydney)
14 November 2009: Scotland 23 Fiji 10
16 June 2012: Fiji 25 Scotland 37
24 June 2017: Fiji 27 Scotland 22
LAST TIME OUT –
Scotland ended their 2017 summer tour with a disappointing 27-22 defeat to Fiji in Suva, which was a real come-down just a week after their swashbuckling victory over Australia in Sydney.
The hosts were inspired, scoring memorable tries through Peceli Yato and Henry Seniloli, with Volavola kicking 17 points. Ross Ford, Ruaridh Jackson and Fraser Brown all crossed the whitewash for Scotland, but it was not enough to overcome the magnificent hosts, who were more than worthy victors.
This was Gregor Townsend’s first defeat as Scotland head coach, after successes over Italy and then the Wallabies.
Former Glasgow Warriors forward Leone Nakarawa was majestic, ably supported by a ferocious back-row of Dominic Waqaniburotu, Yato and Akapusi Qera.
When Josua Tuisova, the Toulon wing known as The Bus, obliterated Damien Hoyland in the tackle early on, there was already a sense that Fiji were on to something special.
In the mayhem of the opening minutes, Tevita Cavubati and Pend Ravai of Fiji, and Josh Strauss of Scotland, all saw yellow.
Fiji took a three-point lead, but it soon vanished when Ford crashed over from a line-out maul. Ruaridh Jackson converted, but Volavola’s struck back to make it 7-6, with the visitors clearly rattled – throwing risky passes, getting turned over at the breakdown and missing a huge number of tackles.
The Islanders took a four -point lead into the break after Yato turned over more ball with another thunderous tackle on Hoyland, Nakarawa sucked in Scotland’s defence and released an outrageous offload to Patrick Osborne, who barrelled through Jackson before sending Yato in for the score.
More slackness in defence cost Scotland three points from the boot of Volavola at the start of the second half. It briefly looked like Scotland might get a grip on the Fijians when Jackson picked up at the side of a maul and strolled over, with his conversion making it 14-14.
Volavola struck back with another penalty, that was cancelled out by Jackson, then Nakawara once again grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, beating three defenders before sending Senilolu in for the score. The final pass was almost certainly forward but there was no TMO.
Volavola converted and added another penalty after Tuisova had once again turned on the power to drive his team forward. Brown pulled a score back for the tourists but they didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to get any closer.
Fiji: K Murimurivalu; J Tuisova, A Vulivuli, J Vatubua, P Osborne; B Volavola, S Vularika; P Ravai, S Koto Vuli, K Tawake, T Cavubati, L Nakarawa, D Waqaniburotu, P Yato, A Qera©. Subs: T Tuapati, J Veitayaki, M Ducivaki, S Nabou, N Dawai, H Seniloli, J Stewart, B Masilevu.
Scotland: R Jackson; D Hoyland, N. Grigg, D Taylor, T Visser; P Horne, H Pyrgos; A Allan, R Ford, W Nel, T Swinson, J Gray, J Barclay©, J Hardie, J Strauss. Subs: F Brown, G Reid, Z Fagerson, B Toolis, H Watson, A Price, G Tonks.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).
Townsend confident that Hogg can hit the ground running against Fiji