Planet Rugby

Preview: Scotland v Australia

22nd November 2013 10:54

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Australia v Scotland Sean Lamont Digby Ioane

Starter last time the sides met: Sean Lamont

Ewen McKenzie's backline has been decimated ahead of their visit to Murrayfield to take on Scotland in Saturday's November Test.

After a fine win over Ireland in Dublin a week ago, and a performance to match, first-choice Australians Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins all miss out through suspension, sanction or injury.

Even with those key names out of action, and in the wake of the coach's sensational meting out of one-Test bans to those involved in a boozy Dublin night out, it's a Wallaby side as buoyant and as potent as it's been all year.

The much-maligned Australian scrum, benefiting from a change at tighthead, bested its Irish counterpart - highly-rated by comparison - last week.

Among the forwards, Stephen Moore and Scott Fardy continued to shine, with the former enjoying an outstanding year in, for the most part, a retreating pack, and the latter's work at the breakdown significantly lightening the load on the tenacious Michael Hooper.

Out wide, it is no coincidence that the Wallabies are scoring tries again - averaging more than four per match in their past five games - with the return to form of Quade Cooper. A tremendous turnaround from his "toxic" television remarks and international exile; Cooper is now an important member of McKenzie's squad off the pitch as well as on it.

The game may be worse for the absence of the likes of Toomua and Ashley-Cooper, but Australia do have a quality depth to their squad, with Chris Feauai-Sautia and Christian Leali'ifano more than able replacements.

McKenzie was at pains to point out the loss of the sanctioned players was no excuse for a defeat, or even a poor performance. And he was right. Scotland are currently without three members of their own first-choice backline, and certainly cannot boast the same calibre of backup.

In fact, there was precious little for the Scots to boast about in the wake of a humiliating 28-0 home defeat to South Africa on Sunday.

Crippled by lack of execution, early struggles in the set-piece, and a startlingly impotent attack, Scott Johnson's men were as uninspiring as they have been since the start of the Australian's tenure as coach.

The line-out misfired terribly in the opening period, with the hosts losing possession on five from six of their first throw-ins, and the scrum was unstable and disjointed on a Murrayfield pitch decimated by a parasitic infestation.

That saw Scotland toil to build much of a platform from which to play, and when coupled with an array of handling errors, had a massively stifling effect on the home attack.

Indeed, that attack was so blunt and devoid of penetration that the Scots failed to make a single clean break - despite enjoying over two-thirds of second-half possession and territory.

Perhaps the sole positive for Scotland was that many of those glaring issues were their own - the Springboks defended solidly, but were not made to work hard for their win. A rapid brace of tries stemming from home mistakes saw them extend their lead to 21-0, which, even at half-time, looked insurmountable.

Elsewhere, Johnson's rotation policy has come under fire for its apparently whimsical nature. While mixing up the squad, trying out new combinations, and giving players opportunities are all important as the serious build-up to the World Cup begins, the Australian's picks do seem pretty incongruous with form and his own comments.

Pat MacArthur and Chris Fusaro have barely had a sniff, yet have been stand-outs for a Glasgow Warriors side a point from the summit of the Pro12.

As just one example, out-of-form Ross Ford will start all three November Tests, despite Johnson bemoaning the attritional nature of modern Tests and the need to rest forwards where such tight schedules are concerned.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: The only change to the backline sees Duncan Weir replace Ruaridh Jackson at fly-half. The 22-year-old added some much-needed zip and urgency to a faltering Scottish attack on Sunday, and with an excellent kicking game, many are excited to see what he can do from the off.

For Australia: Beyond the usual suspects of Messrs Cooper and Folau, Wallaby fans will be keen to have a closer look at the promising Feauai-Sautia on the wing. The 20-year-old is an exciting prospect, but very inexperienced at Test level, and Scotland could well target him in attack.

Head to head: There are a few interesting match-ups here, but the battle in the scrummage between James Slipper and Moray Low will be crucial. Added stability on the tighthead side in Dublin allowed Slipper to attack Mike Ross at the set-piece, and the big Irishman found himself marched backwards time and again. Low is a name that raised a few eyebrows when the team was announced; the Glasgow Warrior is not playing to the best of his abilities, and will have to be on-guard against another Slipper offensive.

Previous results:
2012: Scotland won 9-6 in Newcastle
2009: Scotland won 9-8 at Murrayfield
2006: Australia won 44-15 at Murrayfield
2004: Australia won 31-17 at Hampden Park
2004: Australia won 31-14 at Murrayfield
2004: Australia won 34-13 in Sydney
2004: Australia won 35-15 in Melbourne
2003: Australia won 33-16 in Brisbane

Prediction: Expect a Scottish reaction after last week's shocker, but it won't be enough to derail McKenzie's resurgent Wallabies and claim a famous hat-trick of consecutive victories. Australia by 14.

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 (c), 6 John Beattie, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Al 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 Leali'ifano, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 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 GMT
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)

By Jamie Lyall@JLyall93

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