Jamie Ritchie calls on Scotland to impose their own game on Fiji after run of just three wins in nine in 2022

Fiji’s unpredictability was laid out starkly the last time they faced Scotland. Having succumbed to a 54-17 defeat at Murrayfield, they went out and beat France in Paris two weeks later.

Stuart Hogg is back in the Scotland side after missing the Australia game. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Stuart Hogg is back in the Scotland side after missing the Australia game. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

It is the reason why Jamie Ritchie is adopting a cautious approach to Saturday’s renewal of a fixture that has yielded six wins for Scotland and two for Fiji since the sides first met at Test level in 1989. Scotland’s mantra this week has been “it’s about us” as they look to kick-start their autumn campaign after the narrow defeat by Australia last week. The balance of their preparations has been skewed 80-20 in favour of working on their own game but Ritchie knows Fiji are capable of moments of individual brilliance.

“I’ve said it to the boys all week,” said the Scotland captain. “We are aware of the threat they pose but we are confident in our gameplan and our ability that we can go out there and get a win.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Fiji come to Edinburgh citing disrupted preparations. Vern Cotter, their head coach and formerly of this parish, complained about having only two training sessions ahead of the match. In addition, his first choice stand-off Teti Tela arrived in Scotland late after losing his passport, although he is named on the bench. Cotter, laying it on a bit thick, said this match shouldn’t be much more than a “training run” for Scotland.

Captain Jamie Ritchie wants Scotland to impose their own game on Fiji at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Ritchie is wily enough to not read too much into his former coach’s mind games and the Scotland captain knows Cotter has sought to instil organisation and discipline in a team never lacking in natural ability. “We know the talent as individuals that they have, playing across the world, and when they get the opportunity to come together, they’re well coached and they’re a pretty formidable team,” Ritchie said. “So for us it’s about how we use our collective strengths, and like I say we’ll look to impose our game on them. But we’re brimming with confidence. We know that we’ve got opportunities in the game that we’ve identified and we’ll be looking to exploit them.”

Scotland did plenty right against the Aussies last week, outscoring them by two tries to one with a team composed entirely of home-based players, but they fluffed their lines in the final act when Blair Kinghorn’s penalty sailed wide. The exiles return this week and the addition of players of the calibre of Stuart Hogg, Cam Redpath, Chris Harris and Adam Hastings will add to Scotland’s backline potency.

Gregor Townsend is confident the new-look midfield will improve the supply line to Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe after both wingers saw little of the ball against Australia. Other things to improve on are discipline and the lineout. Scotland conceded 14 penalties last weekend and although the Wallabies gave away one more Townsend knows the Scottish tally was still too high. The yellow card for Glen Young’s clearout on Tate McDermott was costly and gave Australia momentum when Scotland had been in the ascendancy.

Townsend will hope Richie Gray’s first Test start in over five years will help fix a lineout that saw Australia steal three last weekend. The Glasgow lock, who comes in for the injured Sam Skinner, noted this week the importance of lineout defence.

Richie Gray's lineout abilities will be key against Fiji. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Ritchie, captaining the team on his own for just the second time, said it was important for Scotland to avoid “getting dragged into a game that we don’t want to play”. But he stressed that it did not mean cutting back on the amount of rugby the home team would try to play. “I don’t think it’s about reducing it,” he said. “It’s more not getting caught in that loose kind of stuff where there’s a lot of transitions and things. We have a game plan: it’s about sticking to that, and that’s what we’ve spoken a lot about this week. For me, it’s not hard to stick to that. But I think for some guys it's probably a wee bit harder.”

Fiji were due to play Scotland at Murrayfield two years ago in the Autumn Nations Cup but the game was cancelled when Covid ripped through the Fijian camp. This afternoon’s meeting is the first between the sides since the match in 2018 when the Scots scored eight tries in a convincing 54-17 win. It was a poignant occasion for Ritchie who was playing for Scotland at Murrayfield for the first time and scored his first try for his country.

“[It was] off the bottom of the post – I don’t think you can do that anymore,” he smiled. “I have great memories of that day. It came at a bit of a tough time for me and my family as my gran had passed away the week before, the day before the Wales game, and a lot of my family were in the stands. It was a really, really proud day.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He swapped jerseys with Bill Mata that afternoon and the Edinburgh team-mates will be on opposite sides again on Saturday, with Ritchie particularly wary of his friend’s offloading abilities. “Bill’s pretty quiet. We have a laugh and stuff, but he’s actually a very intelligent rugby player. He will rarely mess up a lineout call or won’t know a play. And I expect that he’ll be a leader within that group, for the Fijian guys. We know what he can do with the ball in hand, with his offloading game. He’s a pretty physical guy, so we’ll be looking to get on the outside of him rather than run straight down his throat.”

With New Zealand to come next weekend this is a game Scotland will look to win well to restore a bit of self-belief after a run of six defeats in nine Test matches in 2022. In truth, they should be far too strong for a Fiji side whose preparation time has been limited.

Scotland v Fiji (BT Murrayfield, Saturday, 1pm. TV: live on Amazon Prime. Ref: Nic Berry, Aus)

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Cameron Redpath, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Adam Hastings, 9. Ali Price; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie ©, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Rory Sutherland, 18. Murphy Walker, 19. Jonny Gray, 20. Jack Dempsey, 21. Ben White, 22. Blair Kinghorn, 23. Sione Tuipulotu.

Fiji: 15. Kini Murimurivalu; 14. Setareki Tuicuvu, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu ©, 12. Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11. Vinaya Habosi; 10. Vilimoni Botitu, 9. Frank Lomani; 1. Eroni Mawi, 2. Sam Matavesi, 3. Manasa Saulo, 4. Temo Mayanavanua, 5. Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, 6. Albert Tuisue, 7. Levani Botia, 8. Viliame Mata.

Replacements: 16. Tevita Ikanivere, 17. Livai Natave, 18. Luke Tagi, 19. Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 20. Kitione Kamikamica, 21. Peni Matawalu, 22. Teti Tela, 23. Sireli Maqala.

Comments

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.