BOTH teams have suffered a raft of changes in the lead-up to Scotland’s final autumn Test but Scotland’s restored skipper Kelly Brown is confident that they will not affect the home side’s performance in any adverse way.
The 31-year-old was looking to return to his preferred No 6 jersey, but after the break-down problems against South Africa and injuries the coaches re-thought their plans for Australia this week. In a new trial for Scotland’s back row, Brown has been asked to play both openside and blindside flanker along with Johnnie Beattie.
It adds to the changes with Grant Gilchrist coming into the second row for the injured Tim Swinson yesterday, while the Wallabies are settled in the back five even with Liam Gill one of the suspended quintet in the visitors’ ranks.
“We all know the issues there but all the late changes don’t disrupt things,” Brown said. “We know there are a few injuries among their backs but that doesn’t change anything either; it’s all outwith our control.
“I knew I wouldn’t play last week but that didn’t make it any easier sitting watching, so I’m looking forward to being back in. I know the coaches did talk to me and to you guys [media] about me playing at six [blindside flanker] in this match, and I have played a lot of rugby there, but if you’re asking me if I’m essentially disappointed that I am playing for Scotland then that is something I will never be.”
Brown does appear happy to fill in wherever, which is an attitude that makes Johnson’s life easier, but questions remain over Scotland’s best back-row combination. In trying to allow Brown some time back at blindside, a position where Alasdair Strokosch is currently first choice, Johnson has gone for a “left and right” approach, which means Brown and Beattie will often stay on the same side of the scrum, irrespective of whether it is nearer to the left or right touchline, and take turns to try to close down Australia’s playmaking stand-off Quade Cooper and try to dominate rucks.
“We have real strength and depth in that area at the moment and that’s exciting moving forward,” said Brown. “Because I am in the seven jersey I will be the first to most of the breakdowns and I am aware I have to be accurate in that area, which is a challenge I am really looking forward to. But I don’t think of myself as a six or an eight anymore. I feel I can play all three positions in the back row and I’ve played left and right a few times, and because I’ve played openside and blindside now I’m more than happy to do that. It can give us an edge because it keeps the opposition guessing.”
Gilchrist is another player who found it difficult watching last week, but his reward is an unexpected leap into the starting line-up to face the Wallabies eight months after his Test debut against France, and a challenge to improve Scotland’s lineout play.
“I am really excited,” he admitted, “but now I have to perform and the set-piece is an area we need to get right. But right across the board there are six of us [locks] who will all have had good game-time by the end of the autumn, so it is a good position of competition with not much between people, which means that when you do get a chance you’ve got to take it.
“I think I’ve come a long way from this time last year where I was on the fringes, just looking to get a shot. Now when I get my shot I feel I need to perform well. But as the season has gone on with Edinburgh I’ve been playing better as well and think I can play well.”
As for whether he took umbrage at all the attention heaped on rivals Richie and Jonny Gray, on account of their becoming the 47th set of brothers to play for Scotland, he just shrugged.
“I’m not really bothered about making headlines,” he said, “so long as I’m playing well on the pitch that’s all that matters to me. I’m not desperate to be a cover boy – I’ve not got the looks for it anyway!”
Brown praised Gilchrist’s attitude and form for Edinburgh, but insisted that the focus for everyone was simply on winning this final Test of the year, starting with a better opening quarter that would give Murrayfield a chance of witnessing the completion of a rare three-in-a-row against Australia.
He added: “It’s important we start well and important the set-piece goes well because we put ourselves under pressure in that area last Sunday and it was hard to gain a foothold in the game.
“But we have looked at the tape and I feel we have learned our lessons so I am confident we can turn things around. They are one of the best sides in the world and it’s going to be tough, but that’s why you want to play this game.”