Scott Johnson forced into changing Scotland team

Euan Murray: Hamstring concerns. Picture: Getty
Euan Murray: Hamstring concerns. Picture: Getty
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SCOTLAND will ring the changes with the team to face South Africa in Nelspruit on Saturday and one player in the frame to make his first Test start is hopeful that supporters will witness a different performance to that which ended in defeat to Samoa last weekend.

• Euan Murray’s fitness thrown into doubt after hamstring injury concerns

• Glasgow’s Gordon Reid drafted in as last-minute cover for tighthead prop

Scott Johnson wanted to challenge Scotland’s strength in depth on this three-Test tour, but selection meetings have become strained with a plethora of players leaving the camp or joining, giving it quite a different look to that which pitched up for the opening game in Durban last week. He expected to name the starting line-up to face the Springboks on Tuesday but the injury crisis forced a postponement to today with front rows Euan Murray and Stevie Lawrie still working with the physios to shake off the effects of Saturday’s bruising encounter with Samoa, which dropped the Scots to 11th in the world rankings.

But as the front row and bench personnel take on a patched-up look to it, Duncan Taylor, the Saracens winger-cum-centre, was always in the frame to start at some point on tour. A strong, powerful runner with slick handling skills and a liking for off-loads out of the tackle – that fits neatly with Johnson’s style of game – he made his Test debut off the bench in the last quarter of the defeat to Samoa.

So, he experienced the delirium of an introduction to the world of international rugby and the unique demoralisation of a first-ever defeat to a side that used to be ranked below. Welcome to the Scotland team.

He said: “I was extremely excited and a little nervous on Saturday. It was a massive privilege to get on the pitch and the excitement was the main thing going through me. Playing for Scotland was my dream. I always had my dad [Colin], who was from Glasgow but moved south for work, pushing Scotland forward and I always supported Scotland and would tell people I was Scottish. Saturday was a big thing for me. He flew out to see me winning my first cap but flew back for work, and one of my sisters was there too. But to lose the game was tough to take. Any loss is tough, but I found out at the weekend that international losses are worse.”

At 6ft 4in, Taylor brings a new physicality to the Scottish threequarter line. Recent coaches have tried various permutations with varying success, but a combination of good handling skills, fleet of foot and the kind of experience that comes from growing through the more competitive English ranks, and from the Saracens academy to starting line-up, is decidedly rare. He is not counting his chickens on a first Test start, but, while one feels he may offer Scotland a new threat at outside centre, it may be that he is handed a wing berth for his first run-out. “I enjoy playing both [centre and wing]. If I had a preference I would prefer to play centre. It does not bother me but you get more of the ball at centre.

“If I play it will be massive. Playing South Africa in their back garden would be something special.”