Scotland dust themselves down one last time to face their final Autumn opponent, Tonga, this Saturday at Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen. The Scots march into the contest looking to end on a high note, following back to back defeats to the All Blacks and South Africa. In last weekend’s match against the Springboks, Scotland managed to produce some better rugby with improved defensive organisation and more attacking invention, but lacked the overall drive to finish the job off.
Their opponents this weekend head into the match on a win, following victory over the USA in wales on Saturday (22-13) and a narrow defeat to Italy (28-23) the week before. Tonga will be equally keen to return home with a victory in the bag, along with a nice winning Autumn series to boot. The contest looks set to be a tight affair as both teams will be looking to assert themselves early and control the match.
Reasons to back Scotland
Scotland make five changes going into this weekend’s clash, with coach Andy Robinson, moving Max Evans into the backline in place of the hot and cold Nick de Luca. Last weekend’s standout performer, Henry Pyrgos, gets his first start at scrum-half, with Blair being dropped altogether as veteran Rory Lawson returns to the bench from his prolonged international exile. In the pack, Alaster Kellock starts ahead of Jim Hamilton while Scott Lawson starts for the first time since 2011. The impressive Alasdair Strokosch returns to his blindside position after recovering from the calf injury which kept him out of the Springbok clash. Scotland also welcome back the destructive Richie Gray, who went off after 20 minutes last week following a heavy tackle from Francois Louw.
Defeat to South Africa last week has cost Scotland a chance of breaking into the top eight sides in the world and with it a favourable seeding in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. With that in mind, coach Robinson has a squad for this weekend which he hopes can become the foundations of the team he takes to the World Cup in England.
Reasons to back Tonga
Coach Mana Otai’s side travel to the frozen north with a nice record of one loss (Italy) and one win (USA), with eyes on rounding off a winning Autumn series over Scotland on Saturday. The Tongans will bring their traditional style of physical, painful and ferocious tackling combined with hard, pacey running paired with sevens flair.
Typically considered one of the weaker test nations from the southern hemisphere, Tonga go into Saturday’s match knowing that it is Scotland’s to lose and that they are not considered realistic winners. That alone is enough motivation for a team of players keen to showcase their skills in one of the premier showcases this Autumn. The only change to the winning side from last weekend is Northampton flanker, Hale T-pole, coming into the team, replacing Leicester’s Steve Mafi.
Prediction: Scotland win by 10
The Scots are favourites for Saturday’s match-up, which is merely down to the fact that they are the home side, rather than anything to do with their form. Scotland will need to be ready both physically and mentally if they wish to withstand the Tongan pain train. Scotland’s team includes some fresh uncapped faces in the likes of Bath’s Tom Heathcote, and Edinburgh’s, Grant Gillchrist, which could either be a stroke of genius by Robinson or a complete disaster. Only time will tell how the new brood will fare but one thing is for sure, their will be some seriously sore bodies on sunday morning and they won’t be the ones who are spilling out of bars and clubs along Aberdeen’s Union Street.
By Alexander McLeman. Follow me @TodaysPlay