Gregor Townsend went for continuity in his Scotland team to face the Wallabies – eight months on.
There are just two changes in Sunday’s Autumn Series team to face Australia from the last, full-fat Scotland team that won the famous last-gasp victory in Paris in March.
Captain Stuart Hogg leads a pride of Lions and exiles back after they were ineligible for last week’s test against Tonga, and they’ve just about be selected en masse. Only Huw Jones has been edged out on the bench.
In the starting XV, it’s the team from Paris, plus Matt Fagerson at No 8, who suffered a training injury in the week prior to that game. Pierre Schoeman replaces the injury absentee Rory Sutherland at loose head.
Two more new caps off the bench
Atter eight new caps last week, There are likely to be two more off the bench.
Sale hooker Ewan Ashman – Canadian-born with a Dad from Edinburgh – was courted by England after playing for Scotland Under-20s. Bath’s Josh Bayliss, who qualifies due to a granny from Aberdeen, was a tip-off from club-mate and friend Cameron Redpath.
The achievement of Paris – “one of the best performances since I’ve been involved” – and the togetherness of the group swayed anything that happened last week against Tonga, said Townsend.
“10 days ago we had all 15 players available who started that game,” he said. “It’s unique in international rugby to be able to select the same group of players.
“I thought they showed their resilience in Paris. The way they started the game, the way they managed it at times, the way we had to defend when we were a man down on two occasions and the way we came back to win.
“Although it’s been seven or eight months, the players know they’ve been a team before, and a winning team. We’ll need the same resolve, togetherness and quality of rugby to beat Australia.”
Going back to Paris eight months on
The squad hadn’t actually been debriefed on Paris until last week, but it was important to go back to that game, added the coach.
“We hadn’t reviewed that one, as is always the case with the last game of a campaign,” he said. “We looked to see what worked well and how we can build on it.
“What we did in the last 20 phases (to score the winning try) showed the fitness and togetherness of that team. They found a way to win. Seeing clips of it again is important.
“But the bonds are formed on the training field and in the hotel. The more we can get our players back together, they quickly get back to where they were in the last Six Nations.
“International rugby is all about cohesion and Australia have that more than us as they’ve been together for longer. We know it won’t be perfect on Sunday. But we’ve seen enough to suggest those bonds are getting formed quickly again.”
A full Murrayfield could be the tipping point
The first four of Australia’s current run of five wins in a row were at home. The first full house at Murrayfield since March 2020 can have a huge effect, Townsend believes.
“Last Six Nations (played behind closed doors) we won two away games and lost two home games,” he said. “The crowd or lack of one would have been a factor in both our wins and defeats.
“A crowd can lift you up when you’re on the back foot, and keep the momentum going when you’ve got the upper hand.
“We’ve been very fortunate and grateful to have lots of Murrayfield sell-outs. To have another one this weekend is very exciting for the players.”
Scotland team: Stuart Hogg (Exeter, capt); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow).
Replacements: Ewan Ashman (Sale), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), Oli Kebble (Glasgow), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh), Josh Bayliss (Bath), George Horne (Glasgow), Adam Hastings (Gloucester), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow).