Scotland tour: Gilchrist’s new crew ready to wave goodbye to away-day woes

Grant Gilchrist stretches before yesterday's training session at the Commonwealth Stadium. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

By Stuart Bathgate

In Edmonton

IT IS less than three months since Scotland last played a Test match, but the side that takes on Canada today is almost entirely different to the one which beat Italy back in March, with Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown being the only man to start both games. There can be a temptation in such circumstances to begin games cautiously as new combinations of players get to know each other, but the squad is determined to resist that, and to stick instead with the high-tempo game plan favoured by head coach Gregor Townsend.

“I would say it’s possible [to play the high-tempo game], yes,” blindside flanker Magnus Bradbury said. “It’s how we play, it’s how we’re told to play, and we’ve all played enough rugby to put it into practice on the pitch.”

The chief topic of conversation in the build-up to this match, however, has not been whether the game plan is workable – there should be no doubt by this time that, when applied properly, it can be both effective and aesthetically pleasing, as it has been in victories such as those over France and England in the Six Nations Championship. The real issue is the fact that too often in away games Scotland have failed to apply it properly, losing badly in Wales, for example, and producing another flawed performance in defeat in Dublin.

“We have to make sure we handle our business properly,” captain Grant Gilchrist said. “The first 20 minutes away from home is something we have to improve on, full stop. This tour is a great opportunity to address that: a chance to play our brand of rugby that we’ve seen work well at Murrayfield and maybe not away from home.

“We need to be more consistent away from home. That’s one of the main goals of the tour – to improve our consistency over three games away from Murrayfield. It doesn’t just happen for us at Murrayfield, we still have to work, but the majority of our best performances have been at home with the crowd there. We seem to click a lot easier. That’s one of the challenges: three games in a climate we’re not used to.”

A significant factor here, of course, is that this Scotland line-up is not the one that has underperformed elsewhere. Of the side that began the 34-7 to Wales in February, for example, only three – Chris Harris, Byron McGuigan and Ben Toolis – start against Canada. So this is a very inexperienced Scotland side: one that should not be burdened by past failings, but one that cannot draw inspiration from past glories either. Jamie Ritchie and James Lang make their debuts at openside and centre respectively, and Adam Hastings and Lewis Carmichael should win their first caps off the bench. The onus is on them to get up to speed right away, but Gilchrist insisted that the rookies were mature enough to slot straight in at this level.

“Guys like Magnus could have been Edinburgh captain, minus the incident,” he said, referring to the lapse of discipline which saw Bradbury stripped of the captaincy by club coach Richard Cockerill. “I was right behind him as a great choice to captain Edinburgh; I think he will be in the future.

“Jamie Ritchie could captain Edinburgh, could captain Scotland. These guys have got great leadership. They’re young, but they’re not young when they get on the training pitch. They know what they’re doing, they speak well, so for me, there’s a low amount of caps but when we’ve been training there’s not a low amount of voices.

“People are willing to stand up and speak and say what they think. I’m really excited, seeing this group.”

The Canadian squad is captained by Glasgow winger  DTH van der Merwe, and includes two players who will win their 50th caps this evening – scrum-half Phil Mack and centre Nick Blevins. Former Warriors prop Djustice Sears-Duru will win his 39th cap if he comes off the bench, so in some departments at least the hosts have a lot more experience than the visitors.

But such experienced has counted for little of late, and, after home-and-away defeats by Uruguay at the start of the year, the Canadians must now win through the repechage in Autumn if they are to maintain their record of qualifying for every Rugby World Cup.  What is more, they have lost two key players to injury for this, their first outing against a Tier One nation in two years: Scotland-born half-back Gordon McRorie and back-row forward Tyler Ardron. Without those two in pivotal positions, the home team, ranked 21st in the world to Scotland’s sixth, could struggle to get decent ball.

On paper, this is the easiest of Scotland’s three Tests, with tougher games against the United States and Argentina to come over successive Saturdays. Gilchrist added that a victory was vital in order to gather some momentum for those games.

“We have three games: we want to win three Test matches,” he said. A win on Saturday is huge. We’ve had a lot of prep and we’re itching to get out there.”

A crowd of around 14,000 is expected for the game at the 55,000-capacity Commonwealth Stadium, according to Rugby Canada. Only 11,000 tickets had been sold for the game by midday yesterday, but, with all major club games in Alberta taking place in Edmonton earlier in the day, the governing body expects a significant number of walk-up sales.

 

Canada (v Scotland at the Commonwealth Stadium, tonight, 7pm local time; 2am Sunday BST): P Parfrey; J Hassler, D Fraser, N Blevins, D van der Merwe; S O’Leary, P Mack; N Barker, R Barkwill, J Ilnicki, P Ciulini, E Olmstead, L Rumball, M Heaton, L Campbell. Substitutes: E Howard, D Sears-Duru, C Keith, C Keys, D Dobravsky, A Ferguson, C Davis, T Sauder.   

 

Scotland: B Kinghorn; L Jones, C Harris, J Lang, B McGuigan; R Jackson, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell, F Brown, S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, D Denton. Substitutes: G Turner, J Bhatti, M McCallum, L Carmichael, L Hamilton, A Price, A Hastings, M Bennett.

 

About Stuart Bathgate 1155 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.