Scotland v Australia: Why Gregor Townsend is using Paris template in bid to halt Wallabies’ winning run

It was a case of getting the old band back together as Gregor Townsend named his team to face Australia on Sunday.

Head coach Gregor Townsend during Scotland training at Oriam. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
Head coach Gregor Townsend during Scotland training at Oriam. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Seven and a half months on, the Scotland coach has reassembled the side which defeated France so memorably in Paris, with one notable exception. Rory Sutherland is missing with a side muscle injury, opening the door for Pierre Schoeman to replace him in the front row and win his second cap.

The Edinburgh loosehead is the only one of eight debutants from last week’s win over Tonga to start against the Wallabies, although another Jamie Hodgson - is named as a replacement.

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Also on the bench is Kyle Steyn whose four tries and a man-of-the-match award are not enough to dislodge Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe from the wing berths.

It’s tough luck on the Glasgow Warriors wideman but worse for his club-mate Rufus McLean who lit up Murrayfield last week with two early tries but finds himself surplus to requirements this weekend.

In truth, it was always going to be tough for the new boys to usurp the returning senior internationals from English and French clubs who missed the Tonga game.

And the performance in Paris was so exceptional that Townsend was only too eager to seize a rare opportunity to pick (almost) the same side. Lest we forget, Scotland won the final game of the 2021 Six Nations 27-23 with a late, late try from van der Merwe, created from a passage of play in which the visitors displayed great patience, skill and accuracy.

The coach has shown the team footage of those climactic moments and hopes it will inspire them further as they attempt to halt Australia’s winning run which now stretches to five matches.

Scotland will take on Australia with 14 of the 15 starters from the victory over France in Paris in March. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

“We came together two or three week ago and did reference that game,” said Townsend. “We hadn’t had an opportunity to review that one as is always the case with the last game of a campaign.

“We looked to see what worked well and how we can build on it. What we did in the last 20 phases showed the fitness and togetherness of that team. They found a way to win. Seeing clips of it again is important.”

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Townsend, who has brought back Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris, Finn Russell, Sam Skinner as well as van der Merwe, admits he was taken aback to be able to select again the players who pulled off Scotland’s first win in France for 22 years.

Duhan van der Merwe's late winning try against France. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
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“I couldn’t believe that 10 days ago we had all 15 players available who started that game. I said that to the coaches right before Rory Sutherland got injured so I won’t mention that again!

“It’s unique in international rugby to be able to select the same group of players and I thought they showed their resilience in Paris. That was one of the best performances I’ve been involved in with this group, the way they started the game, the way they managed it at times, the way we had to defend when we were a man down on two occasions and the way we came back to win. Although it’s been seven or eight months, the players know they’ve been a team before. And a winning team. We’ll need the same resolve, togetherness and quality of rugby to beat Australia.”

Reflecting on his selection, Townsend admitted he was spoilt for choice on the wings. In the absence of Hogg, Graham played at full-back against Tonga and endured a couple of torrid moments against the islanders’ big men. He will return to his more accustomed wing role against the Aussies and Townsend feels it will suit him better.

“Darcy has lots of credit in the bank, and I also see him back to his best level physically,” said the coach. “He was obviously struggling with a couple of knocks last year, got a shoulder operation in the summer, and we know from what he is going at training, his speed scores and just the quality of work, that he is at his best level.

“He knows that he has to defend better than in those couple of occasions last week, but he’s defending at full-back rather than wing and that asks him to defend differently. We know it was a bit of a push to play in that position, but it is one that he embraced, and he did play particularly well, so did Kyle and so did Rufus.

“I was asked a couple of times about Kyle, but Rufus was definitely in the mix too [to play Australia]. The way he has been playing for Glasgow, and the way he started his international career, he definitely featured in our discussion.

“So, it is a great situation to have two more wingers put their hand up for selection, but Darcy has been very good for us in the past and I feel he is in a great place physically to play really well this weekend.”

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There are two uncapped players on the bench in Sale Sharks hooker Ewan Ashman and Bath back-rower Josh Bayliss. Ashman comes in at the expense of Stuart McInally who has been unable to train due to sickness.

Both new forwards are likely to see action and Townsend thinks the game could suit Bayliss in particular.

“It’s going to be an open game. Both teams are going to be looking to move the ball so Josh’s pace and his linkability in the wide channels, and his workrate we believe really suits this game. His form for Bath in tough circumstances this year has shown what a player he is.

“With regards to Ewan, he’s a player that combines strength and power in the set-piece because he’s a big hooker, with pace. He’s a dynamic ball carrier and could be a real threat over the ball in defence.”

Scotland v Australia, Autumn Nations Series, Sunday, BT Murrayfield, 2.15pm

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (c); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Subs: Ewan Ashman, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Jamie Hodgson, Josh Bayliss, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Kyle Steyn.

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Australia: Andrew Kellaway; Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia; James O’Connor, Nic White; James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Rob Leota, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Valetini.

Subs: Connal McInerney, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Kurtley Beale, Izaia Perese.

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