GREGOR TOWNSEND has added five English/French based players – including four Lions – who missed last weekend’s match against Tonga because it was scheduled outside the international window to his side for Sunday’s game against Australia.
Stuart Hogg comes in to captain the side from full-back, Duhan van der Merwe is on the left wing, Chris Harris is at outside centre, Finn Russell will play stand-off and Sam Skinner is in the second-row. Grant Gilchrist, who was rested last week, has also joined the second-row. As well as those six personnel changes, there is a positional switch which sees Darcy Graham swap the No15 for the No14 jersey.
Uncapped duo Ewan Ashman (hooker) and Josh Bayliss (back-row) are set for debuts off the bench. Kyle Steyn, who scored four tries against Tonga last weekend, Adam Hastings and George Horne are also named as replacements.
With Rory Sutherland – another English-based Lion – out of action at the moment with an abdominal injury, Pierre Schoeman retains the loose-head prop slot, while Jamie Hodgson drops from the starting XV to the bench.
Two-try winger Rufus McLean, centre Sione Tuipulotu, stand-off Blair Kinghorn and second-row Rob Harley go from starting last week to out of the squad altogether. Ross Thompson, Jamie Dobie, Nick Haining, Luke Crosbie, Marshall Sykes and Stuart McInally, who were all on the bench last week, also miss out on this match-day 23.
Townsend discussed the selection of Ashman and Bayliss on the bench.
“Stuart [McInally] got ill earlier in the week [non-Covid related] and we made a call that having missed a couple of days of training this was an opportunity to bring Ewan in,” he said. “Stuart would have been in the mix because I thought he played really well when he came off the bench last week, there was a real intent and edge about his game.
“Ewan combines strength and power in the set-piece because he’s a big hooker, with pace. He’s a dynamic ball-carrier and could be a real threat over the ball in defence. I remember games when he played for Scotland Under-20s for those two seasons and he was very good over ball.
“I really liked how he played against Exeter at the end of last season. He’s not had that many opportunities down there [at Sale] but whenever he’s had the chance he’s been one of their key players. He certainly adds to a competitive group of hookers we have at the moment.”
“It’s going to be an open game. Both teams are going to be looking to move the ball so Josh’s pace and his linkability in the wide channels, and his work-rate, we believe, really suits this game,” Townsend added. “His form for Bath in tough circumstances this year has shown what a player he is.
“November is a time for us to make sure we see players in our squad. Last week was a brilliant opportunity when we were restricted to just picking our home-based players, and so many of them played really well. This will be a chance for two new players, albeit off the bench.”
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He also explained the reasoning behind retaining Darcy Graham as the only member of last weekend’s back-three in this weekend’s starting XV.
“Darcy has lots of credit in the bank, and I also see him back to his best level physically,” said the head coach. “He struggled with a couple of knocks last year, got a shoulder operation in the summer, and we know from what he is doing at training – his speed scores and just the quality of work – that he is at his best level.
“Kyle getting on the bench ahead of others like Huw Jones shows that what he did last week has brought some reward,” Townsend added. “Rufus was definitely in the mix, too. The way he has been playing for Glasgow, and the way he started his international career, meant he definitely featured in our discussions.
“So, it is a great situation to have two more wingers put their hand up for selection, but Darcy has been very good for us in the past and I feel he is in a great place physically to play really well this weekend.”
Scotland (v Australia at the Murrayfield, Sunday 7th November @ 2.15pm British time): S Hogg©; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (VC); P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Skinner, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (VC), H Watson, M Fagerson. Replacements: E Ashman, J Bhatti, O Kebble, J Hodgson, J Bayliss, G Horne, A Hastings, K Steyn.