Scotland kick off their difficult end-of-year series with a match against Samoa as they look to build momentum before tougher games arrive.
Around 65,500 tickets have been sold for the first of three Tests, with games against New Zealand and Australia rounding off a testing month that has been made all the more difficult by the fact the Scots are suffering with a front-row injury crisis that leaves them rather light.
Their backline in contrast is flourishing, spearheaded by Ali Price alongside Finn Russell in the half-backs. Alex Dunbar regularly gives his side front-foot ball at centre while Huw Jones comes into the XV after recently helping Western Province to Currie Cup glory in Durban.
There’s back-three firepower in the shape of Lee Jones, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg too, which makes it highly likely that Scotland will get the job done against a Samoan side missing fly-half Tusi Pisi. That’s led to Tim Nanai-Williams coming into the unfamiliar 10 slot.
Samoa aren’t short on quality though as Jack Lam and TJ Ioane are willing carriers while Scotland will be well aware of Reynold Lee-Lo and Kieron Fonotia’s ability due to them being PRO14 opponents for Cardiff Blues and Ospreys respectively. Their battle with Dunbar and Jones could well have a big say on the outcome of this game but we feel stopping the ever-improving Jones will be extremely difficult for Samoa.
Remarkably the majority of the build-up to this match has centred around Samoa’s clash with England on November 25 and also the news this week that the Samoan Rugby Union has been declared “bankrupt” by their prime minister. Requests for donations followed, before World Rugby revealed there would be an increased investment into Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. England’s RFU has also said it would help financially.
While it’s far from ideal build-up for Samoa’s players, it unfortunately is nothing new for them when it comes to these end-of-year internationals. They will be professional despite the ongoing off-field issues but once again they look set to face an uphill struggle in November with little reward for their efforts. Let us hope that is rectified swiftly for Samoa, Fiji and Tonga as rugby needs them in sustainable good health.
For now though the focus is Murrayfield for both Samoa and Scotland and with a promising weather forecast, Saturday promises to be an entertaining affair as Gregor Townsend’s charges look to hit the ground running this November.
Players to watch:
For Scotland: No surprise here that centre Huw Jones gets the nod after his two-try showing in the Currie Cup final. He’s been equally as impressive in Scottish colours since making his debut in November last year and will be a threat to Samoa every time he touches the ball this weekend. Jones runs some lethal lines and with his low centre of gravity, he’s a difficult man to bring to ground on the initial hit.
For Samoa: The pressure will be on Tim Nanai-Williams at 10. Not known for his kicking game, both that and his distribution is going to be under the microscope at Murrayfield. There is no question he is a wonderful player in the centres, wing and full-back but this is a sizeable ask of Nanai-Williams to direct the Samoans for 80 minutes. Do not be surprised to see Pele Cowley ease the kicking load at nine.
Head-to-head: In what should be an expansive gameplan from the Scots, Tommy Seymour and David Lemi will see plenty of ball on Saturday. 29 and 35 years of age respectively, they have plenty of experience but one has to take their hat off to the evergreen Lemi. Such a competitor despite his size, he’ll lead by example for Samoa and never take a backward step as he goes up against one of the best finishers in the game.
2015: Scotland won 36-33 in Newcastle
2013: Samoa won 27-17 in Durban
2012: Scotland won 17-16 in Apia
2010: Scotland won 19-16 in Aberdeen
2005: Scotland won 18-11 at Murrayfield
2004: Scotland won 38-3 in Wellington
Prediction: We can’t see the Samoans causing a shock at Murrayfield as Gregor Townsend’s men are too strong. Scotland by 18 points.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell Du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Chris Harris
Samoa: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Paul Perez, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 David Lemi, 10 Tim Nanai Williams, 9 Pele Cowley, 8 Jack Lam, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Piula Fa’asalele, 5 Chris Vui (c), 4 Josh Tyrell, 3 Donald Brighouse, 2 Manu Leiataua, 1 Jordan Lay
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 James Lay, 18 Hisa Sasagi, 19 Fa’Atiga Lemalu, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Mealani Matavao, 22 Aj Alatimu, 23 Alapati Leiua
Date: Saturday, November 11
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)