Planet Rugby

Preview: Scotland v Tonga

23rd November 2012 09:35

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Scotland: Last chance of the year to win at home

Scotland will be looking to end their November Test series on a high when they play host to Tonga at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen on Saturday.

It's been a rollercoaster calendar year for the Scots - featuring a Six Nations whitewash, wins in Australia, Fiji and Samoa, and defeat to New Zealand and South Africa.

Scotland showed glimpses of their potential against the All Blacks and Springboks, but ultimately fell short against the sides ranked first and second in the world.

Two weeks ago Andy Robinson's troops started brilliantly against the world champoions, scoring the opening try of the match and briefly leading before being overrun by the supreme attacking talents of the men in black.

Last time out, they were once again left counting the cost of a disjointed display against South Africa which blended moments of top class rugby with periods of sterility. Scotland were abysmal in a hugely disappointing first half before surging back in the second half.

The end result though was the same and a fourth straight loss at Murrayfield was a hammer blow for the Scots which means that they will not be among the top eight seeds for next month's 2015 World Cup draw and will face a tough challenge in the tournament.

Now, the home side will aim to restore pride but Tonga - only two places below Scotland (10th) in the world rankings - will be no walkovers and are sure to provide a robust challenge.

Robinson, whose position as coach has been under threat following the failure to reach the last eight at the 2011 World Cup and this year's Six Nations debacle which saw Scotland stuck with the wooden spoon, will demand the best performance from his players as they bid to avoid a November series whitewash.

"The game of rugby is about being able to perform for 80 minutes and that's a key area for us this week. You put together 35, 40 minutes of what we did against New Zealand with 35, 40 minutes of what we did against South Africa and there's an 80-minute performance for us," he said.

Robinson, though, is not underestimating a Tonga side which pulled arguably the shock of the tournament in beating eventual runners-up France in the group phase.

"They're looking forward to an opportunity here to knock us over. We understand that," said Robinson.

"For them to perform the way they did against France was superb; look at what France did post that, to get to the final and put New Zealand under pressure. It just shows you the levels that Tonga can get to.

"That's why we've got to be able to perform for 80 minutes; our focus has been about that. There are going to be times when we make mistakes.

"When we do make our errors, we've got to be able to absorb the pressure that's there. We've allowed the opposition to score too easily."

And what of Tonga? The islanders will be chasing a first win over Scotland after losses in 1995 and 2001.

Confidence will be high in the Tongan camp after pushing Italy all the way, before losing 28-23 before beating the United States 22-13 from 13-5 down in Wales last Saturday.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: The impact that scrum-half Henry Pyrgos made when he came on for the experienced Mike Blair against South Africa has earned him a run-on start against Tonga. Winning just his second cap, the Glasgow Warriors youngster made his mark to score Scotland's only try last weekend, and his team-mates will be hoping for more of the same from the energetic number nine.

For Tonga: For Tonga to threaten an upset, the pack needs to play outstandingly well. In the vanguard of that charge one should see the massive frame of Sona Taumalolo, now a vastly experienced prop and a very strong man. He has the ability to control set-piece engagements, and score five-pointers from close range whenever he gets a sniff of the tryline.

Head to head: David Denton v Viliami Ma'afu. Both are focal points in their packs, and each will be tasked of shutting the other down. They'll have their defence tested as the two number eights are dynamic ball carriers and dangerous from broken play. Ma'afu will also face five of his former Glasgow team-mates, having joined the Warriors in February but left in September for personal reasons.

Previous results:
2001: Scotland won 43-20 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
1995: Scotland won 41-5 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria (RWC)

Prediction: Tonga to put up a fight, but the Scots to hang on for a closer than expected win. Scotland by six!

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Max Evans, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Laidlaw, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 David Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (c), 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Alastair Kellock, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant.

Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 John Barclay, 21 Rory Lawson, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Nick De Luca.

Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 12 Sione Piukala, 11 Will Helu, 10 Fangatapu 'Apikotoa, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Hale T Pole, 5 Tukulua Lokotui, 4 Joe Tu'ineau, 3 Halani 'Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Alisona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Ilaisa Ma'asi, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Kamaliele Sakalia, 19 Sitiveni Mafi, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Viliame 'longi, 22 Eddie Paea, 23 Alipate Fatafehi.

Date: Saturday, November 24
Venue: Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland) and Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

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