GREGOR TOWNSEND believes that Scotland will have to play even better than they did when pushing New Zealand to the wire last week if they are going to get a positive result against Australia on Saturday afternoon.
Backing up good performances has been a challenge for the Scots in recent years, most notably during the summer when they went from an excellent victory over Australia to losing to Fiji the following week – and Townsend know that a similar drop in standards this weekend could have catastrophic consequences against a Wallabies side desperate to right a few wrongs after bad luck and awful weather conspired against them when they took on England last week.
“It’s about moving on and we’re playing the current number three team in the world – arguably the best attacking team in the world,” he reasoned. “Australia beat New Zealand a few weeks ago, they were very good against Wales and had a lot of the game on a wet day against England, so we know we are playing one of the form teams in the world right now. If we drop our standards we are not going to win.”
“It’s the last game of the tour and they are probably hoping for dry weather given how wet it was last week,” he continued. “They play a similar brand of rugby and have a similar mind-set every time they go into a game, which is moving the target.”
“They kick the ball the least out of any international team. Their back-line is put together with brilliant attacking players – I think there is three players of Fijian origin there – and they’ve got outstanding half-backs, plus Kurtley Beale at full-back
“They’ve also got one of the best forwards in the world in Michael Hooper and they’ve got an experienced front-row, so they are a top team. We know it is going to require a better performance than we gave last week to win.”
“We’ve got to have the same endeavour, the same mind-set; [emulate] the defensive performance in the first half especially, and what we did in the second half attack-wise –then take it to another level.”
“That’s the benefit of having another game this week. It is a great for our guys that they get to go again. Yes, they are disappointed that they didn’t get the win but we have another opportunity as a group to play a brilliant side and work to find a way to win.”
The coach has made four changes to the team which started last week’s match in this third and final instalment of this Autumn’s Test schedule.
Sean Maitland was not in the original training squad for the series due to an ankle injury but was called up after coming through Saracens’ match versus Gloucester at the weekend, and he has now taken Lee Jones’ place on the right wing. Byron McGuigan gets the nod ahead of Jones as cover on the bench on the basis that he is more versatile.
“We watched Sean’s game on Saturday night in the hotel bar and it was great to see him getting involved so much, and also that he didn’t get any issues with his ankle after that. Sean has been a quality player for Scotland over the last couple of seasons – it is the first time since his Glasgow days I have coached him, so it is great to see,” said Townsend.
In the pack, vice-captain Ryan Wilson returns from a shoulder problem which kept him out of the All Blacks encounter, Grant Gilchrist is rewarded after a positive showing off the bench last time out by being handed a starting berth in the second-row berth and Simon Berghan gets the nod at tight-head prop – with Cornell du Preez, Ben Toolis and Zander Fagerson all dropping to the bench.
Fraser Brown comes back from his knee injury to take over from George Turner’s amongst the replacements.
Alex Dunbar and Fagerson are still going through the Head Injury Assessment [HIA] protocol so it will not be 100 percent confirmed that they are going to be fit to play in this game until they complete a contact session tomorrow [Thursday].
Luke Hamilton, who made a big impact on his brief debut off the bench before injuring his ankle midway through the second half, has been ruled out.
“We just announced the team to the players half an hour ago [at approximately midday on Wednesday]. We were waiting on a couple of players coming through training today – Hamish Watson and Darryl Marfo [who had been struggling with back and ankle niggles respectively] were able to do that so they retain their places in the team,” revealed Townsend.
Townsend added that cohesion in the front-row was the logic behind Berghan’s elevation to the run-on fifteen.
“He starts alongside the two Edinburgh front-rows, and Zander on the bench is alongside two Glasgow front-rows, which will help from a scrummaging point of view. It’s a week we have not been able to do much training-wise – we didn’t train on Monday and we had a lighter day yesterday,” he explained.
“With Grant Gilchrist, we feel his form merits a start. He has been playing really well for Edinburgh, defensively he has been outstanding this season and he did very well when he came on last week. So, we were pleased with how the second-rows played last week but we felt Grant deserves that start,” he continued.
“Ryan Wilson feels in a much better place physically. He’s trained well. There was a debate and it was a close decision last week on whether he’d be available, and the guys who came in stepped up well, so Ryan now knows it is his opportunity this week to play well. He’s a very important player for us – he’s our vice-captain, he does a lot in attack and defence to help the team be in a winning position, and physically he should be in a really good place to play well.”
Scotland (v Australia at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 25th November at 2.30pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, S Maitland; F Russell, A Price; D Marfo, S McInally, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, J Gray, J Barclay, H Watson. R Wilson. Subs: F Brown, J Bhatti, Z Fagerson, B Toolis, C Du Preez, H Pyrgos, P Horne, B McGuigan.