Scotland rugby team boss Gregor Townsend aims for three tour

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend handed hooker Ross Ford his record 110th cap and Nick Grigg his first in the team to face Fiji.

Edinburgh and Scotland hooker Ross Ford with the Hopetoun Cup after the 24-19 victory over Australia in Sydney in which he equalled Chris Patersons previous-record tally of 109 caps. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport
Edinburgh and Scotland hooker Ross Ford with the Hopetoun Cup after the 24-19 victory over Australia in Sydney in which he equalled Chris Patersons previous-record tally of 109 caps. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport

In all, Townsend made 12 changes from the side which won 24-19 against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

The departure of stand-off Finn Russell to join up with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand and the release of centre Alex Dunbar from the touring squad, left two places open in the starting XV.

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But, rather than simply replace them, Townsend opted for radical change to his team.

Duncan Taylor, who will partner Grigg in the centres, Jonny Gray at lock and John Barclay in the back row are the only survivors from the win over the Wallabies.

Fiji coach John McKee has been similarly radical as he hones his side for their Rugby World Cup qualifiers next month. He made seven changes from the side which beat Italy 22-19 in Suva, including leaving Glasgow Warriors favourite Niko Matawalu out of the squad altogether.

There is a place, however, for the offloading skills of lock Leone Nakarawa, although McKee did not see too much of an advantage of those two having an inside line on their opponents.

He said: “Naks and Niko [Nakarawa and Matawalu] know the Scottish boys well, but things move on quickly in the game.

“Even although they were at Glasgow a couple of years ago things have changed.

“We saw the way Scotland changed quite a bit under Vern Cotter. Gregor [Townsend] is in charge now so there is more change again.

“Talking to Leone Nakarawa particularly, he has a lot of respect for Scotland because with Racing this season they lost twice to Glasgow.”

For the Scots, who have enjoyed a happy and successful tour, it is important that they finish on a high.

Townsend said: “It would be great. We have really enjoyed the tour, seeing three different countries and we have two wins so far. It would be great to have an unbeaten tour.”

Ruaridh Jackson wins his first cap in a year but slots in at full-back with Peter Horne again moving to stand-off as Russell’s understudy. After two matches sticking with club units in the front row, the new-look version for this game is more mix-and match with Glasgow loosehead prop Alex Allan joining Edinburgh’s Ford and tighthead WP Nel.

The second row is back to the Glasgow pairing of Jonny Gray and Tim Swinson, while the back row of skipper John Barclay, No 8 Josh Strauss and John Hardie is the one that should have played against Italy in Singapore before Hardie hurt himself in the warm-up.

There is again a six-two split in favour of the forwards on the bench – partly a reflection of the versatility of so many backs, partly that Townsend expects the bigger forwards to wilt more in the heat.

Grigg, as Townsend pointed out, the players’ player of the season at Glasgow, will be the only one of the uncapped players brought on tour to go home with a game, Sean Kennedy, George Turner and D’Arcy Rae will all have to wait.

“Nick [Grigg] is up against some pretty good players at Glasgow,” Townsend added of his new cap. “He is excellent in attack and defence and made lots of line breaks and tackle breaks. He was also one of our best defenders.”

At the opposite end, he was quick to pay tribute to Ford, recalled to the starting side after being rested on the bench last week and looking to rediscover the scoring touch he found in Singapore. “His last start was pretty good - two tries - and it is a credit to his dedication that he wants to keep improving. He wants to play for another few years and judging by the way he’s training and playing at the moment that could definitely happen,” Townsend added.

Fiji: K Murimurivalu; J Tuisova, A Vulivuli, J Vatubua, P Osborne; B Volavola, S Vularika; P Ravai, S Koto, K Tawake, T Cavubati, L Nakarawa, D Waqaniburotu, P Yato, A Qera (C). Replacements: T Talemaitoga, J Veitayaki, M Ducivaki, S Nabou, N Dawai, H Seniloli, J Stewart, B Masilevu

Scotland: R Jackson (Harlequins); D Hoyland (Edinburgh), N Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), D Taylor (Saracens), T Visser (Harlequins); P Horne (Glasgow Warriors), H Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors); A Allan (Glasgow Warriors), R Ford (Edinburgh), WP Nel (Edinburgh), T Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), J Gray (Glasgow Warriors, J Barclay (C) (Scarlets), J Hardie (Edinburgh), J Strauss (Glasgow Warriors). Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow Warriors), G Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Z Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), B Toolis (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Edinburgh), A Price (Glasgow Warriors), G Tonks (London Irish).