Just when you thought Scotland were having a consistent, cohesive selection policy, Gregor Townsend spins the old ‘Toony Tombola’ again and makes four changes for South Africa on Saturday.
The non-injury changes do make some sense. They hope Matt Scott will generate go-forward in midfield. Nick Haining is a probably essential extra pair of hands at the tail of the lineout. Rufus McLean excels in the kick-chase. There’s going to be a lot of kicks being chased on Saturday.
Here’s the three main points from the changed team for the world champions…
They’ll have to play what’s in front of them
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 8, 2021
Scotland will try and play a quick game, move the bigger South Africans around and not allow them to drop to their preferred snail’s pace. But you can’t do that all day, Townsend points out.
“The way South Africa attack is very direct. They want more set pieces, so we’ve got to make sure that that area is something that we’re able to not only compete but impose our strengths on them.
“It doesn’t work where you say ‘The opposition are going to kick, we’re not going to kick’. What flows is if a team kicks a lot, you end up kicking a lot. You’re either kicking straight back or you’re in your 22 and you’ve got to manage that area smartly.
“So it’s going to be one of those games. We’ll have to make sure that we’re still able to do what we want to do at certain times. But we’re going to have to play their game and play our game at the same time.”
Should Hamish have been rested next week?
Superb play by @scotlandteam's Hamish Watson today!
— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 7, 2021
The post Lions Tour sabbatical and an untimely injury meant Hamish Watson played his first rugby of the season against Tonga, but just the first half. He managed just under an hour against Australia – less than 100 minutes all told.
Watson’s presence will be crucial in the spring, and as physical and dynamic as he is now aged 30, you want to take care of him. But there was ample chance to do that against a Japan side next week that looked thoroughly outmatched against Ireland.
Scotland have not had Watson just twice in recent times, and the results are illuminating. There was Autumn Nations Cup loss in Dublin, their heaviest defeat in recent times. The other was the World Cup game against Japan.
He’s that important. But Townsend is right in saying the last 20 might be crucial – it has been in every big test played by the South Africans this year. Hamish will surely be on by then.
Four years is an eternity in international rugby…
🙌 … 𝙏𝙃𝙄𝙎 𝙂𝙐𝙔 !!
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) November 11, 2021
Matt Scott’s selection is a clear indication that no matter how long you’ve been on the outside, there’s always a route back.
Townsend picked Scott for his first game in charge, against Italy in Singapore in 2017. He came off the bench in the great win in Sydney the following week. Since then…nothing.
A popular figure in the Scottish game, the Dunfermline-born centre came back to Edinburgh on a two-year deal a few years ago. But he suffered a lengthy concussion absence and wasn’t even offered terms at the end of second time at the club.
Happily he’s found himself at Leicester. At 31, and with new maturity, he’s been excellent for the Tigers this season. Pointedly his defence has improved – that was what got him dropped by Scotland.
Improved how much? We’ll certainly see in direct competition with the formidable Damien de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
Injuries? Not many
The only enforced change of the four was Stuart McInally for George Turner, who popped a rib muscle against Australia. It popped back in, but he’s not being risked.
Scott Cummings, who broke a hand a month ago, is in the reckoning for the final test against Japan. The lock has had a full week of training but wasn’t considered for this game.