Preview: Scotland v Australia
Off-field drama has elevated Saturday’s clash between Scotland and the Wallabies in Edinburgh to new heights.
The Murrayfield Test had been an afterthought in the mind of most rugby supporters who keenly anticipate the encounters in Paris and Dublin on Saturday and Sunday.
However, the suspension of six Wallaby players – dubbed the “Dublin Six” – following a late-night drinking session last week has spiced up the match in no uncertain terms.
Even for a struggling side like Australia, they would have considered Saturday’s showdown with the Scots as one of the ‘easier’ games of their end-of-year tour which has seen them play England (13-20), Italy (50-20) and Ireland (32-15) and concludes against Wales in Cardiff next weekend.
That’s no longer the case as the afflicted Australians find themselves in disarray, with an injury to Matt Toomua further compounding their woes.
Despite being shut out by the Springboks last Sunday, the Scots suddenly pose a legitimate threat to a makeshift Wallaby outfit that show eight changes to the team that triumphed over Ireland last weekend.
Scotland have also been somewhat of a bogey side for the Wallabies in recent seasons; Australia have lost their last two outings against Scotland and last defeated the Scots seven years ago.
These facts could weigh further on the psyche of the visitors and coach Ewen McKenzie admits the weekend’s match has turned into one of the most important games in his short and tumultuous time at the helm.
"It will be one of our greatest challenges, given we have a bunch of changes," McKenzie told AAP.
"The guys are going to be hungry for different reasons, so if you don't get the best out of them now I don't know when you will.
"This is a test of character for everyone, for all of us, the coaches, the whole lot. It will be an important moment."
Scotland have been forced to do introspection of a different kind this week following their 0-28 humbling by South Africa.
Their problems stemmed from their inability to match the Springboks’ physicality and coach Scott Johnson has wielded the axe, making four changes to the pack.
A key man in the Scottish pack, line-out manager Jim Hamilton, will make his 50th Test appearance on Saturday and is determined to mark the milestone with a third consecutive win over the Wallabies.
"It's a massive honour and a huge milestone for me to look back on – it's one I want to be victorious in," Hamilton told BBC Scotland.
"Emotionally, it's going to be huge for me, but getting up for the game is never an issue. It's about making sure we get the detail right and that is all done in training."
The 31-year-old said they’ve put the disappointment of the Springbok game behind them and have focused on righting the wrongs in training this week.
"We were extremely down. We genuinely went into the game feeling that, if we got things right, we could go on and win,” he said.
"Obviously, we saw a very good South Africa team but it was there for all to see – we just didn't get a foothold in the game.
"We lost five of the first six line-outs and they scored from two driving line-outs.
"With the runaway tries they got, it was fairly disappointing and we have to get over that quickly."
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Kelly Brown is back and regains the captaincy, with Johnnie Beattie also coming into the back row. Ross Ford’s line-out throwing will come under scrutiny after South Africa dominated the set-piece, where new lock pairing Grant Gilchrist and Jim Hamilton will have to provide stability. Duncan Weir gets another opportunity at flyhalf and will have to give the hosts direction and mark the inform Quade Cooper closely.
For Australia: All eyes will be on the makeshift backline, which sees the return of some old faces, one fresh one and a questionable positional change. Mike Harris will play his first Test of the year at inside centre, with Christian Lealiifano moving into unfamiliar territory at outside centre. That these two are combing in midfield is a major gamble on McKenzie’s part. Joe Tomane is back in the starting line-up and will be eager to stretch his legs, while Chris Feauai-Sautia will be out to impress in his run-on debut.
Head to head: The tactical battle between Greig Laidlaw and Will Genia will be tantalising and significant in the territorial stakes. Both men are leaders within their respective camps with complete skill sets and ample experience. Kelly Brown will have to lead by example as he goes up against Michael Hooper, who has been sublime this season. Finally, Jim Hamilton and James Horwill will meet in the line-outs and in the tight loose, which should make for an interesting duel.
2012: Scotland won 9-6, Newcastle
2009: Scotland won 9-8, Edinburgh
2006: Australia won 44-15, Edinburgh
2004: Australia won 31-17, Glasgow
2004: Australia won 31-14, Edinburgh
2004: Australia won 34-13, Sydney
2004: Australia won 35-15, Melbourne
Prediction: The Wallabies have made things difficult for themselves – making the visit to Murrayfield much more complicated than it ought to have been. Fortunately for them, they have been able to retain the pack that outmuscled the Irish and Scotland have just a six-day turnaround from their bruising defeat against the Springboks. The visitors will struggle to find synergy in a patched up backline, but like last weekend, their forwards should get them over the line. Wallabies by seven.
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (captain), 6 John Beattie, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Euan Murray, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Kieran Low, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Max Evans.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Christian Lealiifano, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Bernard Foley.
Date: Saturday, November 23
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 18.00 (18.00 GMT; 05.00, Sunday, November 24 AEDT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy then overcast but no rain. High of 6°C and low of 1°C. Winds from the North West at 8 km/h.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France) and Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld