Scotland v Argentina: Adam Hastings in at 10

Finn Russell moves to 12 as Gregor Townsend makes eight personnel changes

Adam Hastings in action against Argentina in June. Image: © Fotosport/David Gibson.

ADAM Hastings will start at stand-off for Scotland on Saturday, with Finn Russell moving to inside centre. The Glasgow No 10 is one of eight personnel changes made by head coach Gregor Townsend to the starting line-up for the Test against Argentina.

Blair Kinghorn starts on the left-wing and can be expected to move to full-back later in the game in place of Stuart Hogg. Sean Maitland switches to the right, with Tommy Seymour and Pete Horne dropping out after playing in all three of the Autumn Tests so far.

There is a new front row of Allan Dell, Fraser Brown and Simon Berghan, while Grant Gilchrist takes over at lock from Ben Toolis, who drops out of the squad. In the back row, Jamie Ritchie returns at blindside and Josh Strauss starts at No 8.

The bench sees a number of alterations from the squad that lost 20-26 to South Africa, with Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Sam Skinner and Ryan Wilson all dropping down from the starting 15.  Byron McGuigan comes in for Chris Harris, George Horne is back in place of Ali Price as back-up to captain Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half, and Alex Dunbar returns. Alex Allan is the replacement loosehead for Dell, with Gordon Reid missing out after starting against the Springboks.

While the combination of Hastings and Russell looks like a wise move with the World Cup in mind, Townsend explained that it had not always been pencilled in for this match, with injuries to other inside centres having been a factor.  “It’s evolved more because of circumstances with other players,” he said.  “Sam Johnson and Matt Scott were both in the squad, so there’s two players who can both play 12 that would have got opportunities.

“Peter Horne was involved in all three games. Alex Dunbar is now involved in his third. Given that we’ve had injuries and that Finn and Adam have combined well in their games that they have played, we believe it is a good time to see how they go against Argentina.

“I believe it will be an exciting prospect for Adam to start his first game for Scotland at BT Murrayfield. He’ll have two strong communicators either side of him, someone who plays regularly at 10 on his shoulder and someone who has played a lot of matches for Scotland and captained Scotland on a number of occasions inside him. He’ll be excited about getting that opportunity and also sharing the decision-making with those around him.

“What really excited us about Adam going into the Wales game was the work-rate he’s shown for Glasgow and his games for Scotland in the summer. We’re looking for the same from Finn in a different role this week, so he’s going to have to work really hard in defence as well as attack. But that means we have two players who normally get on the ball 20 to 30 times a game, so I’d like to think they will get a lot of touches this time too.

“It was planned there would be rotation and to give players opportunities during this period, but it’s also been about managing the physical condition of our players,” the coach continued, talking about the 23 as a whole. “Things evolve during a campaign. Players that were in our squad originally got injured, so we’ve had to look at different combinations. A couple of players – Lee Jones and Matt Fagerson – have picked up knocks during the campaign.

“There’s also form, which changes things – you want to give players opportunities because they deserve it. That’s how we got to this selection. It doesn’t feel like there’s been eight changes. It feels like this is a squad that has been working with us over the last four or five weeks and they’re pretty much up to speed on how we want to play.”

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma will name his squad today, but whoever he picks, Townsend expects a tougher battle than the last time the sides met, when Scotland rounded off their summer tour with a convincing victory in Resistencia. “While it was a great effort from the players to win in Argentina last summer, we are under no illusions as how different a prospect their team will be on Saturday,” the Scotland coach added.  “Under Mario Ledesma Argentina delivered some outstanding performances and they were hugely impressive in their victories over South Africa and Australia in the recent Rugby Championship. I’m sure that they will throw everything at us to end their international season on a high note.

“With four Test matches in succession, we’ve been conscious of rotating the squad to enable as many players as possible to be in the best physical condition for each contest. We are expecting those selected this weekend to bring energy and huge effort to the game and seize the opportunity to perform at their best level against a very good team. It will be another huge challenge, not only for our forward pack, but also for our defence – as Argentina play ambitious, skilful and effective attacking rugby.” 

With Wilson covering the back row from the bench and Skinner also able to slot in there if needed, there is no place in the 23 for Gary Graham, the Newcastle flanker who was called up to the training squad last week. That means that the 26-year-old has yet to be officially captured for Scotland, but Townsend is confident that he is now committed to playing for the country of his birth despite his involvement with England at the turn of the year. The coach also hinted that John Hardie, now a team-mate of Graham’s, could be in line for a return to the national squad.

“Gary’s trained with us for two weeks and it’s been great having him here. This weekend was more beneficial for him and for us to see what he could do. The first week obviously when you come in and you’ve not been part of the squad, there’s a lot to learn, and Gary did well to get his head down and work hard. This week in training you see him more involved in our game and that’s been great to see.

“It’s been enjoyable working with him. The timing hasn’t been great for him in terms of being involved this weekend, more so from the point of view of his injuries, so he’s only back into playing now. But he’s a player we rate very highly. We obviously were disappointed in the Six Nations that Eddie [Jones, the England coach] got in there before us, because he was in great form. And if he gets back into that form, which he showed in the second half of his game against Harlequins at the weekend, then he’s going to compete really hard in two positions: at seven with the likes of Hamish [Watson] and Jamie and John Hardie now, who’s back playing; and at six with the players we have there.

“Gary’s committed to us and he’s enjoyed these two weeks and we’ve been impressed with him. He now has to go back to Newcastle and over the next six weeks show through his form why he should start or be involved in the 23 against Italy.

“Last week at Newcastle Gary was at six and John Hardie was at seven, so it’s encouraging for Scotland to have two back-rowers playing at Premiership level. John obviously has missed a lot of rugby, but that’s now his first start, his third game after two off the bench, so there’s another guy competing for a seven role.”

Scotland (v Argentina at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 2.30pm): Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Finn Russell, Blair Kinghorn; Adam Hastings, Greig Laidlaw; Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss. Subs: Stuart McInally, Alex Allan, Willem Nel, Sam Skinner, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Alex Dunbar, Byron McGuigan.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1427 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.