SCOTLAND are now confident that inspirational lock Richie Gray will be fit to take his place in a pack that holds the key to whether New Zealand can be put under pressure in Sunday’s opening EMC Autumn Test Series match.
Head coach Andy Robinson has been hit by a plethora of injuries and Gray and his fellow second row Jim Hamilton only returned to full training yesterday. But both came through the session with no ill effects, Robinson’s relief almost palpable as he said: “Richie has trained fully with us this afternoon and is in good spirits. I’d like to thank our medical team headed by Dr James Robson and our physiotherapists Paul McGinley and Stephen Mutch for the care they have taken of Richie since he sustained an ankle injury with his club Sale Sharks last month. He is raring to go for Sunday’s match.”
Stand-off Greig Laidlaw, Stuart Hogg, the full-back, scrum-half Mike Blair, and props Ryan Grant and Geoff Cross have all missed a good bit of game-time with injury in the first two months of this season, but all have been passed fit to take on New Zealand this weekend. Gray was the only lingering doubt, but Robinson is now viewing the Sale lock as a key weapon in the campaign to take the game to a powerful New Zealand pack.
The All Blacks invariably take to Murrayfield expected to win, such is the legacy of a record of 26 victories and two draws in 107 years of jousting, but there have been few occasions where the gap has appeared so wide. That is not merely in the personnel. The tourists will not name their side until Friday and we expect it to show a mix of first-choice personnel and inexperienced newcomers. But the fact that New Zealand have played through until late October, a month beyond their usual season, and so come here match-fit, and with a recent draw in
Australia still hurting, while Scotland have been pulling in players from all over the country, after six months apart as a Test squad, in an effort to shore up the holes left by missing talents.
At yesterday’s team announcement in the Edinburgh head office of team sponsors RBS, Robinson insisted that he was unconcerned by the notion that half of his side could be under-prepared in terms of match fitness of Test experience. He shrugged off Edinburgh’s poor form and the fact that he has named seven of their players in the starting line-up as insignificant because he had watched them as individuals in recent weeks and each one earned his place. But he could hardly say anything else. He hopes that the high intensity of training has helped bring his squad together tightly and to the level of fitness required for Sunday, and no doubt is hoping that Scotland’s ability to respond most impressively when their backs are to the wall shines brightly once again.
The team he has selected brought no surprises, and even the New Zealand camp admitted that they had paid little attention to it because they knew who would be picked, so short are Robinson’s options. There was one new name on the bench, with Glasgow’s uncapped scrum-half Henry Pyrgos getting the nod over the experienced former skipper Rory Lawson as back-up to Blair. That, Robinson explained, was a move towards developing players of the future, and was earned by Pyrgos’ early season form at the Warriors, and he pointed to others, such as Peter Horne, Peter Murchie and Grant Gilchrist, as talents we may see later in the series.
That is for the future; Scotland’s present is just four days away and Robinson is striving to draw the confidence from the summer tour, the first Test win in Australia in 30 years, and blend it with a game-plan that can make life uncomfortable for the All Blacks. Asked whether he had used a psychologist, as is common these days, he said he had brought former SAS soldier Floyd Woodrow back into camp, but then stated: “I’ve got two Australians [assistant coaches Scott Johnson and Matt Taylor] in the management”, as if that was all the motivational expertise he required for this game.
Robinson added: “We have belief in the way we’re trying to play the game. We have belief in the players we have and our approach to keeping the game simple. One of the key things for me with all of our players is that they have to go on that field and go toe to toe with the opposition. The key is to go out and stand up against New Zealand.”
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
14 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors)
13 Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby)
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
11 Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby)
10 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby)
9 Mike Blair (Brive)
1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors)
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby)
3 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby)
4 Richie Gray (Sale Sharks)
5 Jim Hamilton (Gloucester)
6 Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan)
7 Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby)
8 Kelly Brown (Saracens) CAPTAIN
16 Scott Lawson (London Irish)
17 Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh Rugby)
18 Kyle Traynor (Bristol Rugby)
19 Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors)
20 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby)
21 Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors)
22 Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors)
23 Max Evans (Castres)