Scotland rugby team kept on their toes by Gregor Townsend

Gregor Townsend has a well-deserved reputation for making wholesale changes to a winning side, so it should not have been a surprise that he has launched his time in charge of Scotland by living up to it.

From left: Duncan Taylor, Jonny Gray, Gordon Reid and Greig Tonks walk along Coogee beach near Sydney ahead of tomorrow's Test against Australia. Picture: Fotosport/David Gibson

There are eight changes in personnel, nine if you include Ryan Wilson who came into the starting team last week only at the last second, including complete swaps in the front row and back three. If you include positional switches, the number rises even higher: only half backs Ali Price and Finn Russell will be in precisely the same roles as they were in Singapore.

“We knew there would be changes, we also wanted to see players playing Test match level,” Townsend explained. “The travel, the quick turnaround after playing an intense Test match in Singapore – it is of benefit to bring in people who had not played 80 minutes in that game.”

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Certainly one effect of the policy is to keep the players on their toes. Not even scoring tries is necessarily going to be good enough to be sure of your place – Ross Ford and Damien Hoyland, two of the scorers against Italy, are both left out while Tim Visser has a minor rib problem and is not risked.

Ford does have the comfort of a spot on the bench, with his record-equalling 109th cap beckoning whenever he comes on. As he did in the opening game Townsend has stuck with club units putting the Glasgow Warriors front row on to begin with and then Edinburgh’s lined up to replace them.

Jonny Gray, who was rested, and Hamish Watson, who was in the final stage of recovering from an injury, both return to the side, while Duncan 
Taylor moves up from full-back to centre, his specialist position.

As is often the case with 
these wholesale Townsend changes, it is the number not the individual switches that are noteworthy and some were clearly pre-planned before they left Scotland – Lee Jones coming in for his first cap since 2012 in place of 
Hoyland, for example.

The shock selection is Greig Tonks at full-back. Not only has he been playing in the second tier in England, though London Irish did go through the season unbeaten and won promotion back to the 
Premiership, but he was not even in the original squad.

“London Irish played very well in the Championship this year; they play a positive brand of rugby which brought them a lot of tries,” Townsend pointed out. “They are back in the Premiership. You look at them and think they are a top-half Premiership side.

“We have watched how Greig [Tonks] has performed individually, what’s he’s done, how he has defended, his 
decisions on the ball. He really fits in with the rugby we aspire to play because of his passing ability and his decision 

“He has played regularly at full-back. For the Wallabies’ kicking game, we believe he is the better option to counter their threats.”

Clearly the attraction is that he not only kicks the ball a long way but is left footed, 
giving Scotland the ability to keep the Australians guessing which way they will go. He has played at stand-off and is comfortable there, so expect to see him up in that position threatening one half of the field while Russell looks after the other side.

“Duncan Tyalor did well at full-back last week but 
we want to see him at 
centre,” Townsend added. “He plays well there. We want to see him get hands on the ball, and also marshal the defence.

“We know the Wallabies are one of the best attacking teams in the world. They will move the ball from their 22. They are the best passing team in the world.

“Having Finn [Russell], Alex Dunbar and Duncan there is a really solid defensive unit.”

The Wallabies have taken the opposite approach, sticking as close as they could to the side that beat Fiji last week. The only change is on the wing where Henry Speight has tweaked a hamstring and Eto Nabuli from the Queensland Reds comes in for his debut cap. “I did notice that Scotland have put some of their more experienced 
campaigners on the bench to finish the game,” observed Michael Cheika, the head coach.

“That is part of the strategising these days. Our team will probably have our one, two and three from the World Cup final and those games on our finishers list as well. That is the way things go.”

As Cheika pointed out the last decade has seen nothing but tight games between 
Australia and Scotland – the biggest winning margin in that time is just six points to Australia in 2009 and three of the games, including the last two, have been won by a 
single point.