Wholesale changes for Scotland
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Glasgow Warriors and British & Irish Lions fullback Stuart Hogg returns to the starting Scotland line-up for this Saturday’s Test against Fiji at Murrayfield Stadium.
Hogg has been absent from competitive action since having surgery on an ankle injury he sustained in September, while representing his club in the Pro14.
He is among nine changes to the starting Scotland line-up from Saturday’s defeat to Wales as head coach Gregor Townsend rewards several players who performed well off the bench, while welcoming the availability of exile players during World Rugby’s designated international window.
Four such players come into the starting line-up, where Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner is set to make his debut, while halfbacks Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) and Finn Russell (Racing 92), and wing Sean Maitland (Saracens), are also set to start.
It will be Laidlaw’s first Scotland outing since kicking the match-winning penalty against Italy in the Six Nations earlier this year, securing a third-placed Championship finish for the visitors in Rome.
It will also be the first time the scrumhalf – who has captained the national team more than any other player – will lead the side under Townsend.
Glasgow Warriors duo Alex Dunbar and Tommy Seymour return to start in the backs, while Pete Horne is promoted from last week’s bench in Cardiff to partner fellow Warrior Dunbar in midfield.
Debutant Skinner is one of four changes to the pack, with hooker Fraser Brown, lock Grant Gilchrist and No.8 Matt Fagerson promoted from last week’s bench, while props Allan Dell and Willem Nel, and back-row forwards Ryan Wilson and Jamie Ritchie, are all reinstated.
BREAKING | Nine changes to Scotland team v Fiji at BT Murrayfield this Saturday (live on BT Sport & BBC) #AsOne
1️⃣5️⃣ Hogg returns from injury
Ⓒ Laidlaw to captain
🔒Skinner starting debut
➡️ Russell & Maitland start
⬆️ Fagerson, Horne, Brown & Gilchrist promoted from the bench pic.twitter.com/ORONSoEFuO
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) November 8, 2018
“It’s a more experienced side this week in terms of time together at this level, while we’ve rewarded some of those who performed well off the bench with the chance to start,” said Townsend.
“We’ve had a good week in training with a slightly different focus for the challenges we expect Fiji to present this Saturday.
“In particular, they pose huge threats off turnover ball, utilising some of the best individual players, one-on-one, in the world.
“They score more tries than any team in the world off turnover ball, about 66 percent, whereas most teams are under about 10 or 15 percent, so if you repeatedly give them turnover ball it’ll be a tough afternoon.
“That presents us with an opportunity to consider different approaches tactically and use different strategies to apply pressure in front of our home support.
“Our pack will have to work exceptionally hard against a very physical Fijian side and our backs will have to be alert to opportunities as a consequence of that work.
“We have to be physical and accurate, play to our strengths and put them under pressure in areas they don’t want to go into, to make sure the game is open for us but not for them.”
Newcastle Falcons centre Chris Harris and Sale Sharks back-row Josh Strauss come into the reckoning for the first time on the bench.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 George Horne, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15.30 (15.30 GMT, 03.30 Fiji time Sunday, November 11)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)