On Saturday evening, Murrayfield will host a resurgent Australia team and a Scotland team that got internationally embarrassed by South Africa in their last game. On paper, Australia will walk all over the Scots. In reality, the same thing will probably happen, but Scotland do have a couple of little factors to help: they have been Australia’s bogey team in recent years – they haven’t beaten them since 2006 – and Australia are missing five players after they were banned for getting a bit boozy in Ireland. Adam Ashley-Cooper, Liam Gill, Nick Cummins, Benn Robinson and Tatfu Palota-Nau are the culprits, although it does make you wonder if they would be banned if their country was due to play a more threatening team than Scotland (like, say, Ireland?).
For reasons best known only to himself, Scott Johnson has picked nearly the same team who suffered at the hands of South Africa. The unimaginative backline remains intact apart from Duncan Weir who has the unenviable task of getting his teammates firing, with Ruaridh Jackson dropping to the bench. In the forwards, Richie Gray falls out of the matchday 23 altogether with Grant Gilchrist replacing him, while young Jonny Gray remains as a substitute. Ryan Grant replaces Alasdair Dickinson at loosehead prop with Ross Ford and Moray Low keeping their places.
The backrow has been reshuffled as captain Kelly Brown once again starts at seven, Dave Denton remains at number eight but his positional rival, Johnnie Beattie, plays at six. Neither Alasdair Strokosch nor John Barclay are in the 23 as uncapped Kieran Low sits on the bench. Chris Cusiter will be hoping to make a similar impact to last week if he comes on to play, as will Euan Murray who returns to the squad as the game is not being played on a Sunday.
The Aussies have named four changes from the starting line-up that comfortably beat Ireland in their last outing. All four changes come in the backline with Mike Harris and Christian Leali’ifano forming a new centre partnership and Joe Tomane and Chris Feauai-Sautia starting on the wings. It is Harris’ second start for Australia, his first coming in the 6-9 defeat in New South Wales last year, and it is Feauai-Sautia’s second cap.
The forwards remain unchanged and it is sure to be a physical battle upfront between two very large packs, and Saia Fainga’a and Ben Alexander will come off the bench to provide more experience and power. Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley are also brought into the 23 to provide some versatility among Australia’s backs, especially as Leali’ifano is inexperienced in his role at outside centre.
All eyes on
Michael Hooper is the in-form seven in the world and he provides real edge and aggression to the Australia team. He is a good, quick support player, gets over the whitewash more often than fellow backrowers and he is a jackal over the ball at the breakdown. Indiscipline is a problem of his though and he has four yellow cards to his name in 26 caps.
He has been one of the worst performers throughout the entire Autumn Internationals, so Ross Ford must be thanking his lucky stars that Scott Johnson has showed faith in him yet again. His hooking has been non-existent and his lineout throwing poor, he needs to buck his ideas up against Australia or this could be the last time he puts on a Scotland jersey.
Head to head: Israel Folau v Sean Maitland
Israel Folau is in the small minority of rugby players who seem to get better every game. His positioning and his passing have improved dramatically since he first played fullback and all the other aspects of his game are superb. Sean Maitland on the other hand has, probably by his own admission, not done a great job of filling in Stuart Hogg’s shirt. He needs to come into the line more and attack more from the back – hopefully he will do this at the weekend in a game where he plays his cousin, Quade Cooper.
There should be a real ding-dong battle up front between two physical packs, especially since the inclusion of Beattie and Brown, so it is probably in the backs where the points will be scored. Scotland’s have been poor so far and there doesn’t seem to be any spark at all, whereas even though Australia’s backline is slightly inexperienced, they have the magic of Cooper and Will Genia to fall back on. Australia by 15 (but Scotland to at least score this time).
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images