With six changes in personnel plus another two positional switches, Vern Cotter has stuck a small bomb under his drive for continuity as he lives up to his promise to make sure every player he has taken to Japan gets some game time.
In reality it is only a tiny, little bomb. The changes are even split between those that were forced on him by injuries and those he chose to make – and in the latter category sheer exhaustion after a long season and the marathon running performance in the first Test played a significant part in his decisions.
Take all those out of the equation and really, the only totally voluntary change was to restore Sean Maitland to the starting XV at the expense of Damien Hoyland, who does not even make the bench. Instead Sean Lamont is hoping he will be called on and creep a little closer to Chris Paterson’s cap record.
All the changes do mean a midfield that is starting together for the first time – the same as finished the first Test with Peter Horne partnering Matt Scott and, to add an even greater sense of novelty, Huw Jones waiting to win his first cap off the bench.
“I am really looking forward to it,” said Horne. “Matt [Scott] is a strong physical guy. He had a great game last week and I will be looking to come in and complement him. Hopefully it is a partnership that works well for the team and we can get a good result.
“I can take the carry, but that can flip if I have come through a power of work. He will know both positions inside out so I can also migrate close to the ruck to help Jacko [Ruaridh Jackson, the stand-off]. I am sure it will work well.” The game is particularly important for Horne, who is anxious not to carry the baggage of ending the season on a sour note into his wedding next month. “It will break me, mate, I hate losing. Absolutely hate it,” he said. “I don’t want to even contemplate it. All I am thinking about is getting that positive result. It would ruin my summer if we lost.
“I am sure that is the view of the whole collective group. It will be no easy feat as they are playing in front of their Emperor [Akihito] and a big crowd in Tokyo. We have to make sure we are on it from the first minute. It will be a cracking match and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Apart from the midfield, there is a novel look to the front row, an end to the seven-match run in the starting side for Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP [Willem] Nel as a unit. In fact, since Nel qualified to play for Scotland it is the first time none of the Edinburgh trio has been in the run-on team, with Dickinson back in Scotland after tearing a hamstring, Ford struggling with a calf muscle complaint and Nel – who is named on the bench – carrying a knee problem that has prevented him training.
“You have to be able to count on everybody,” said Cotter of his new-look front row, with Rory Sutherland starting for the first time alongside Stuart McInally and Moray Low, who is starting his first game for two years. “Dicko [Dickinson] went down very early [in the first Test], so people have to be able to step up, give their best shot and do what’s best for the team. It’s exciting for them.”
In the back row, Josh Strauss comes in to give John Hardie a rest, with John Barclay shuffling across from blindside to openside to make room.
The other surprise was that Cotter has decided that after running 11 kilometres in the Toyota heat last week, Greig Laidlaw needs a rest. Henry Pyrgos, who was an unused replacement last time, comes in as a like-for-like replacement as scrum-half, captain and goalkicker.
“I did a little bit [of goalkicking] last season and I kicked a few times in other games for Glasgow,” said Pyrgos. “There were times when I would have done it for Scotland, but the chances didn’t arise. It’s something I’m used to. I did it a lot growing up.
“As a scrum-half you kick a lot in open play anyway, maybe even more than the 10 sometimes. Goalkicking is something I’ve always done and I want to keep doing it. I enjoy it and feel that it is a strong part of my game.”
Equally so is his leadership, this being the third time in five starts that he has been asked to come straight into the side and lead it. “It is obviously different, if I am starting that I am also captain,” he admitted. “Being captain does bring a slightly different element, there are things you have to think about. If you are not captain, you just think about your own role.
“Things are slightly different but I have had a few opportunities with Glasgow and a few times with Scotland so it is something I have grown into and enjoy. First and foremost in the end we have to go out and play well, so that is my main focus. Do that well and hope the team put in a good performance and then it becomes an easier job,” he added.