Australian media reported that the Wallabies were “seething” after being told they couldn’t use a grass pitch at Peffermill due to bad weather on Tuesday to protect it for an Edinburgh University v Durham University fixture scheduled for yesterday. To add insult to injury for the Aussies the universities game went ahead on a 3G pitch due to more bad weather in the capital.
It was reported Australia coach Michael Cheika and his squad were given 90 minutes’ notice that they would not be given access to the pitch.
The Wallabies began training in an area off to the side of the pitch which was covered in leaves as phonecalls were made to try to find an alternative venue. The tourists finally completed their drills on an artificial surface. The Australian media reported that an offer from the SRU to use facilities at BT Murrayfield was rejected for fears that the Wallabies could be spied upon.
After announcing four changes to his starting line-up for the final autumn Test, Townsend was asked if he could feel any sympathy for the opposition’s plight. “Yes, if that was their only option to train. They had a number of other options I believe,” was his response.
“BT Murrayfield was one of them because I got a call yesterday morning asking if I had any objections. If they could not train because pitches were waterlogged ,then that was one option. We made a couple of 3G pitches available, too, so there were options.”
Asked if he would have been comfortable using the opposition’s home stadium if the roles had been reversed, Townsend said: “Yes, I would have wanted to train.”
Scotland are based at the state-of-the-art indoor Oriam facility at Heriot-Watt University, and Townsend said: “You want to train well. You’ve got to factor in weather. We’ve not trained outside this week, we’ve trained indoors, two sessions. Some coaches don’t like training indoors or on artificial surfaces. We feel we’ve had a really good training session this week. The players have enjoyed being indoors.”
Following last weekend’s near miss against the All Blacks, Townsend has put wing Sean Maitland straight back into his team after he came through a game for Saracens last Friday on his comeback from an ankle injury.
Ryan Wilson returns at No 8 from the shoulder knock he sustained against Samoa, with Cornell du Preez on the bench, while Grant Gilchrist starts at lock ahead of Ben Toolis and tighthead Simon Berghan is given the nod for his first start for Scotland.
Zander Fagerson is on the bench as he, along with centre Alex Dunbar, continue concussion protocols before getting final clearance to play.
The Edinburgh duo of flanker Hamish Watson and loosehead prop Darryl Marfo have recovered from the niggles they picked up in the epic 22-17 loss to New Zealand but back-rower Luke Hamilton, who made his debut off the bench last weekend, has not made it due to an ankle problem.
Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown, who joined the squad after a speedy recovery from a knee injury, goes straight on to the bench.
“We just announced the team to the players half an hour ago,” said Townsend at yesterday’s lunchtime press conference. “We were waiting on a couple of players coming through training today. Hamish Watson and Darryl Marfo were able to do that so they retain their places in the team.
“We still have two players in the squad who are going through HIA from the weekend and they’ve passed everything so far, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow until they can do contact – that’s Zander Fagerson and Alex Dunbar.
“Luke Hamilton unfortunately missed out. He had a really promising debut last week, so for him to not be available is disappointing for him and us.”
Townsend has once again opted for units who are familiar with each other from their clubs.
He continued: “Simon Berghan starts alongside the two Edinburgh front-rows, and Zander is on the bench alongside two Glasgow front-rows. That will help from a scrummaging point of view. It’s a week we have not been able to do much training-wise – we didn’t train on Monday and we had a lighter day yesterday.
“Fraser Brown and Sean Maitland come back in – these are experienced players who have played very well for Scotland and it’s great that they are available for such a big game.
“Grant Gilchrist – we feel his form merits a start. He has been playing really well for Edinburgh, defensively he has been outstanding this season and he did very well when he came on last week. So, we were pleased with how the second-rows played last week but we felt Grant deserves that start.”