Scotland aim to finish with flourish at sold-out Murrayfield

Another sell-out crowd will pitch up at BT Murrayfield this afternoon hoping for a further feast of quality Test rugby and a crackling atmosphere to warm the soul.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend oversees training at BT Murrayfield ahead of the final autumn Test against Australia. Picture: SNS/SRU
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend oversees training at BT Murrayfield ahead of the final autumn Test against Australia. Picture: SNS/SRU

The autumn series reaches its climax in what will be decidedly wintry conditions but many of the 67,144 will be returning after experiencing the hot atmosphere last weekend which so nearly lifted the Scots to a historic win over the All Blacks and will be expecting more of the same, this time with a victory to celebrate.

Scotland will, however, be facing class opponents not lacking in motivation of their own and know that any drop off from the All Blacks display is likely to be punished.

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The Wallabies have come through what has been, at times, a difficult year. They were slated for losing to Scotland in Sydney back in June and for shipping more than 50 points to the All Blacks at home.

The Scotland players gather on the pitch. Picture: SNS/SRU Gary Hutchison

They steadied the ship and showed marked improvement in the Rugby Championship and comfortably beat Wales at the start of the month but suffered more trauma at Twickenham last weekend when they suffered an unfortunate 30-6 defeat and coach Michael Cheika was hauled before the beaks over his conduct before being eventually cleared.

It may have been played down on Thursday but their time in Edinburgh has not passed without incident as their training was disrupted on Tuesday to perhaps add further fire to Australian bellies.

This will be the last hit out of a long season and, with veteran hooker Stephen Moore making his 129th and final Test appearance, the Scots know they are up against a highly-driven and battle-hardened outfit.

“They’ll be motivated like any Test,” said Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor yesterday after the squad’s final training session. “They’ll be disappointed that they lost [to England], and we’re disappointed that we lost [to New Zealand].

The Scotland players gather on the pitch. Picture: SNS/SRU Gary Hutchison

“We’ll be highly motivated and we know that there’s been some really close tussles with Australia over the years; they’ve always been close games. I think you’ll find two highly-motivated teams, and two really attacking teams and some good defence in there.

“I think it sets up for a really good Test match, similar to last week, and hopefully we’re good enough to come out on the right side of it.”

Taylor, pictured below, reiterated the view of head coach Gregor Townsend that Australia are the best attacking team in the world who will present Scotland with yet another formidable challenge.

“I think both weeks are really hard. We’re playing the best team in the world, and then the third best team in the world,” said Taylor.

“We’re thinking anyone in the top ten on their day, you play any of them it’s going to be a challenge. They’re very good with their set-piece plays, as are New Zealand, and they beat you with their one-on-one skill very well.

“They always have really good set moves and set-piece plays so we’ll try to rep some of them because they repeat them fairly regularly when they’re good and have some success with them.

“Again there will be plays that we haven’t seen before that they’ll pull out and I guess it means us understanding and being on the same page, that we’re setting up defensively correctly and we’re tackling very well as well. Because they’ve got some really big guys.”

Taylor believes the late change of Pete Horne for Alex Dunbar in the centre has not caused disruption as they were preparing for the possibility after the latter, who is the team’s defensive leader, suffered a head knock last weekend.

“We knew all along he had to go through the protocols so Horney’s done a lot of the training, most of the week,” explained Taylor.

“It’s difficult sometimes when a player has to drop out but we’ve had a lot of time with Pete running attack and defence so we knew it could eventuate like that, so we’re prepared for that.”

Horne will be looking to make amends for the lapse against Australia last autumn when, soon after coming off the bench, he fell off the tackle which allowed Tevita Kuridrani to barge through for the winning try in a dramatic 23-22 win at Murrayfield.

“Horney’s a very good defender himself, a very good tackler,” said Taylor. “Alex is in there because he’s a big guy, tackles well and he’s really hard on the ball, like an extra back rower. That’s a strength of his, he’s very good at pilfering ball and bringing the line up. But Horney’s very good at that as well, he’s a real accurate tackler and he brings a lot of communication to the group, so he brings different strengths.”

Edinburgh’s Phil Burleigh slots in on the bench and, if he gets on, will be the seventh player to make his Scotland debut this month, following Darryl Marfo, Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Chris Harris, Byron McGuigan and Luke Hamilton.

“Phil has played well for Edinburgh and he’s been in the squad for the entire time,” said the assistant coach. “He’s a very good distributor, an astute rugby player who knows the game very well.

“Even though he hasn’t played he’s been very good at looking out the opposition and giving points on that, and he’s been very good at giving points on the starting team when running against him. He’s going to fit in really well and I think he’ll have a really good impact on the game when he gets his opportunity. I’m really excited for him.”

The defence coach said plans were in place for the potential unleashing of 21-stone prop Taniela Tupou, known as the “Tongan Thor”, who is on the bench after becoming eligible for Australia during the week.

“They’ve picked a lot of good ball carriers on the bench and we’ve talked about that,” said Taylor. “We’re going to have to be very good with our tackles, we’re going to have to have line speed. He [Tupou] is a really exciting player for them, but your No 1 job as prop is to scrum very well.

“But when he gets the ball we’ll have to be very accurate and double team and all those things.

“He might find too that we really go hard in the scrums when he comes on so he might be a little more tired doing that, so he doesn’t run the ball as much.”