Scotland to ring changes again for Australia match

SCOTLAND will ring the changes again for the final autumn Test against Australia, with skipper Kelly Brown returning for Alasdair Strokosch and Pat MacArthur and Mark Bennett handed opportunities to step up.

Scotland captain Kelly Brown, training hard at Murrayfield in anticipation of Saturday's Autumn Test against Australia. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Scotland captain Kelly Brown, training hard at Murrayfield in anticipation of Saturday's Autumn Test against Australia. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Scotland forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys acknowledged the team’s disappointing display in the 28-0 loss to South Africa and admitted that some players could have played themselves out of the national side for the foreseeable future. However, he reiterated the words of head coach Scott Johnson in stating that a number of pre-planned changes will go ahead, irrespective of performances.

“There will be changes because we have gone down a path of not necessarily picking for these games on form and regardless of results,” said Humphreys. “We have to increase our depth and have to make sure we know exactly where we are.

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“So, there will be a few changes – as we did after the Japan game. There were always three or four positions that we said we would pick on form, and the players were always aware of that, so whoever was playing better in those positions would get a start, because we have to reward integrity too.”

With the team announcement not until today, he would not elaborate on where those form choices would come and where players would be left out, but he did acknowledge that hooker MacArthur – who made a ten-minute debut against Samoa in the summer – was in line for a return to the squad, after making way for Scott Lawson last week, and that his Glasgow team-mate Bennett was in the frame to make his Test debut.

He said: “Pat will be involved in some way this weekend. We need to find out [about him]. We need to make every position competitive and he will have an opportunity to push his case. There may also be an opportunity to involve Mark. He started the season extremely positively so there was always an avenue to involve him somewhere. That is accentuated by the fact that we have had so many injuries [in the backs]. We are looking to involve him. He does have some things to work on but he is a kid we are looking at.”

There were a number of leading internationalists who struggled to fire against South Africa and hooker Ross Ford is one who will be under pressure for his spot. It is unfair to blame the hooker entirely for the disastrous early lineouts that handed the Springboks the initiative on Sunday, for lifters and jumpers were also at fault but, while Ford remains one of the most consistent Test performers, for one of the nation’s strongest and most powerful players he struggled to impose himself in the fashion of his opposite number Adriaan Strauss on Sunday.

“It was disappointing the way our lineout started – we lost five of the first six,” admitted Humphreys.

“We are trying to change our mentality at that, in terms of perhaps being a fraction bolder than we were in the past. It was always going to be interesting to see how the boys reacted but to win 15 of the next 16 lineouts showed really good composure. There were a couple of things that made us lose those line-outs, which we can fix.

“We have been through it with Ross in detail and he knows the areas we want him to improve in. He had certain things to concentrate on. One was to make our scrum go forwards and we were very positive on that, and another was that there were two or three of those first throws that perhaps you could have asked more of him but, after that, he threw very well. In terms of the physical attributes he possesses, we have talked about how, if he is not one of the best hookers in the world, we will fall short.

“He has the physical attributes to be the best. It is about concentrating on specific areas we want him to excel in. He is working hard in those areas at Edinburgh to accentuate the positives rather than talk about the negatives.”

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Humphreys, a former Wales hooker, knows a bit about the set-piece but he was also left rueing the breakdown, where his pack was well beaten by their counterparts, who had been drilled by Scottish coach Richie Gray. There appear to be no plans, however, to bring Gray to Murrayfield when his Boks 
contract ends next week.

“We were up against the No 2 team in the world, who had clearly targeted an area where we had exposed them [in June],” said Humphreys. “It was an area they wanted to improve and they have. It is not about how other teams prepare but a pathway for us to go forward. This was a step back, but is it a concern? Not really. It is something we have to work on. Some players are not suited to the way we want to play but we have to find out what depth we have, which players we are taking forward.”

Looking ahead to Saturday, he added: “We understand the slightly different threat Australia have in terms of being very potent when they get the ball, especially in broken field. We have to make sure we are structurally sound and don’t give those opportunities to a really good back line.”