UPDATED: Scotland v South Africa: Matt Scott returns as one of four changes

Rufus McLean, Stuart McInally and Nick Haining are also back in the starting line-up

Matt Scott
Matt Scott training with the Scotland squad on 2017 - the last year to date in which he has won a cap. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

GREGOR Townsend has made four changes to the Scotland team to face the Springboks on Saturday – two in the pack and two in the backs. Rufus McLean returns on the wing in a back division which also sees Matt Scott back at inside centre after a long absence from the national team. In the pack, Stuart McInally starts at hooker after missing the Australia game because of illness, and Nick Haining is at blindside in a reorganised back row.

Jamie Ritchie moves from No 6 to openside to accommodate his Edinburgh team-mate Haining, with Hamish Watson dropping down to the bench. Ewan Ashman, a try-scoring hero on his debut off the bench last week, again has the No 16 jersey. Blair Kinghorn is also named among the substitutes as a utility back, taking over from Kyle Steyn.

Scott is preferred to Sam Johnson, while McLean, who made his debut against Tonga, is on the wing instead of Darcy Graham. McInally replaces George Turner, who was injured early on in the win against the Wallabies, and Haining comes straight into the starting line-up as an indirect replacement in the 23 for Josh Bayliss, who made his debut as a substitute last Sunday.


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Scott, whose 39th and last cap to date was at the very start of Townsend’s reign back in 2017, is now a more well-rounded player, according to the head coach.  “He’s gone and shown what he can do for Leicester,” Townsend said. “There were areas of his game he had to work on, and we needed to see him improve. We feel he’s done that.

“He’s come back into top form the last six or seven months; he started the season really well. There’s much more competition at centre from the last time he played. Even though he’s been playing, he’s now competing against other good centres. But he gives us his strengths, carrying and work rate. Defensively he’s really improved over the past few months.

“But from my perspective, like Rufus and like Nick, we want to give players opportunities that we feel deserve them, And can push for a starting place in the Six Nations and maybe a World Cup squad. And if we just went through November picking the same team, then yes there’s cohesive and positive with that, but we’re not getting to learn about other people and how they either thrive or don’t play as well when they get that opportunity. So far everyone’s grabbed their opportunity.”  

Haining is back in the team because of his own virtues, the coach explained, but also because Watson has only played a couple of games this season after taking an extended break following the Lions tour – in part to nurse a groin strain. “Nick played a very physical team in Paris at the end of the Six Nations and performed well. I thought he came off the bench and did really well against Tonga. He was unlucky to miss out last week against the country where he was born. We think his style of play can really help us this week. 

“On the other side it’s a case of what’s best for Hamish too. He hadn’t had any rugby before Tonga and we got him through 40 minutes, and he played well at the weekend. We have to have a view on where he is after so little rugby. We also believe he can make a big impact sometime in the second half or earlier if he has to. But this game is likely to be decided by how well the teams play in the last 20 minutes as much as the first 20.” 

 McLean, meanwhile, is back in the side after a spectacularly successful debut against Tonga saw him score his team’s first two tries. “We’ve got really good competition at wing,” Townsend explained. “I thought Rufus was outstanding against Tonga. He just thrived in that Test-match environment. So was Kyle, and he got the nod last week.

“Darcy and Duhan had a lot of credit from what they’ve done for Scotland before and both started against France. We feel it’s a good opportunity for Rufus. We believe he is ready and offers something different. Some aspects of his game, contact and kick chase, are exceptional. We just have to look at the bigger picture at times during the November tests. Make sure we’re giving players opportunities that are deserving of them.”

Scotland (v South Africa at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 1pm): S Hogg; R McLean, C Harris, M Scott, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; P Schoeman, S McInally, Z Fagerson, S Skinner, G Gilchrist, N Haining, J Ritchie, M Fagerson. Substitutes: E Ashman, J Bhatti, O Kebble, J Hodgson, H Watson, G Horne, A Hastings, B Kinghorn.


Scotland v South Africa: three changes to Springbok side for Murrayfield clash

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 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.


  1. Quality comments on here as usual, such a trial reading the HYSs on the BBC !

    Having the option for squad rotation seems such a bonus now we have the strength in depth to support it, and sensible choice of opponents to give us a couple of games to blood some new caps …. fingers crossed for a great performance from the guys !

  2. Think the back-row selection revolves around line-out options chaps. The Saffers launch their rolling maul from the lineout and have enjoyed a lot of success from it. Personally, i’d rather see Watson in with Fagerson on the bench and Haining at 8 but I guess Gregor and co have a far greater insight than us as onlookers/supporters. Haining provisions bulk, needle and a further lineout option with a view overall to disruption.😁

  3. Hmmm. I’m all for squad rotation and building depth but I’m not sure that a match versus the world champions is the one to do it on! That said, these are all quality replacements coming in. Excited to see McLean on the wing and I think he’s got the nod as he’s played a bit at FB for Glasgow and looks decent under the high ball.

    Shame Darge got injured and we didn’t see him in these Autumn games and hoping that Tuipulotu gets another run out in the Japan game – really like the way he plays at Glasgow and he showed up well in the Tonga game. If we can keep this group injury free and get the likes of Jonny Grey, Sutherland and Cummings back in then we’re building a pretty tasty looking squad for the 6N and beyond.

    • Don’t forget Cammy Henderson :). He and Darge will be next to get picked in a squad for the first time, likely in the summer or perhaps next 6N.

  4. There seems to be much gnashing of teeth that Watson isn’t in the starting 15 (BBC ” Watson out” ).
    It’s a 23 man team these days and the bench will have as much influence as the starting 15 on the outcome.

  5. Very interesting selection, fine to go with most changes apart from Kinghorn (good player but won’t play 10 and you’d have thought Steyn much better option) . I like Haining, adds physicality….. not sure wisdom leaving Johnson out of squad. Real shame Darge injured. Can Scotland “do” enough to give McLean, DVDM and Hogg space.

  6. Interesting changes. I wonder if Matt Fagerson and Haining will switch between No 8 and blindside flanker in different situations during the match. Pleased by Scott getting a chance especially within Redpath’s continued absence, though Johnson made a couple of good breaks against Australia. I have reservations about McLean for this game who is an exciting prospect. Has he got the physicality to play the Boks ? I realise he is larger than Graham but Steyn who weighs 20 kilos more might have been a more suitable option. Furthermore McLean has been playing LW not RW where he is selected.

  7. Stand up Rufus McLean. 67k crowd and a start against the world champions. He better be prepared for an 80 minute aerial game backed up by a cavalry charge which is as big as the characters from the BFG. I’ve got everything crossed for him and his fast feet which are what you need against SA as you won’t run over them. I wonder if he’s just spelling Watson who’s just back.

    • And that is my concern Donny….not sure about McLean defensively and especially under the high ball. Can understand why Darcy would not be favoured aerially but think Steyn would have been the better option. Hope we see McLean in space though.

  8. Like others what is the back story on Watson – is he carrying an injury? He is undoubtedly our best back row forward. Scott has been playing really well, so worth a shot. Really would like to see Hastings and Russell start together at some point. Not sure what to make of back 3, Graham considered too small?

    • It must be the lineout. 4 nimble jumpers who can move around quickly before the lift is clearly the policy here. Then , Watson comes off the bench as an edge forward as the wide channels open up.

  9. Well, if ever there was a horse for a course then this one is it. Haining comes in as expected, but most unexpectedly replaces the Mish. I had anticipated Matt Fagerson might give way, but imagine that despite being the same height as Hamish – six foot one – he gets the nod for being a stone and a half heavier. As the players tire, Watson will no doubt be used as an impact sub. Ashman is already a better h00ker than McInally, bigger and younger too. The pack gives Scotland four jumping options – 6’7, 6’5, 6’4 and 6’4, but undoubtedly it has lost some mobility for its 136 stone plus. Matt Scott has been brought in from the cold after a long stint away, a reward for good form with Leicester but also for defensive bulk in the middle. The odd one out is Rufus McLean on the wing – and Darcy must feel himself unlucky. That said I am absolutely delighted to see the young flyer get his first serious taste of the big time, for at 21 his potential is huge. If the Boer carthorses give him so much as a sniff then they will not see him for dust. Toonie ae surprises us and on the whole this is a good team for the challenge ahead.

  10. Scott getting the nod from Toonie is well overdue but I didn’t think it would be this week. Haining for Matt Fagerson wouldn’t have been a surprise, I can only surmise Watson is carrying an injury. McLean there on merit.

  11. Don’t have the figures but I reckon each of the incoming players to the starting side carries more beef than the one they’re displacing

    • Interesting choice of McLean ahead of Steyn who is a better defender (and is bigger/stronger). Scott is a surprise as Sam has been awesome and Tiopuluto was apparently next off the rank. Haining will add bulk and aggression. Think Hamish is carrying a niggle so being protected? His size cannot be an issue.

  12. Shows we are now developing some depth which is good news.

    Also illustrates the highly attritional nature of todays game.

    Go well boys!

  13. Matt Scott that’s out of left field, granted he has been playing well for unbeaten Leicester. So is McLean to a lesser degree. Nice team with a few bigger guys in the line up. Really looking forward to what should be a great game.

  14. Delighted to see Scott back in the side. I think we can afford a straight-running defensive organiser at 13 if we’ve got a bit of flair at 12. With Redpath unavailable Scott seems the obvious choice. In his second Edinburgh spell he’d matured into a really well-rounded centre.

    Any suggestion’s Watson is carrying a knock? They mentioned opting against a hamstring operation in commentary last week.

    • I thought it was his groin – had a niggle that meant he couldn’t play for Edinburgh until the Tonga game arrived. Has had limited game time since Lions tour, I would imagine Townsend is starting Haining for (a) added beef, (b) to test different backrow combinations before the WC (we all know that HW / JR / MF works) and (c) reduce the minutes of Watson in his first few games of the season to prevent injury / burnout.

      Six Nations is the tournament that matters, so I can see why they don’t risk Watson too much in this series. Though its a shame, would love to see Watson prove Gatland / Eng wrong and have a better game against SA than penalty machine / golden boy Curry.

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