AFTER witnessing Japan implode in the final 30 minutes on Wednesday in Gloucester Scotland coach Vern Cotter rang the changes in his own team to play the USA Eagles at Elland Road tomorrow.
The Kiwi has brought in ten new starters, six in the forwards and four in the backs including Henry Pyrgos, who takes over the No 9 jersey shirt and the captaincy from Greig Laidlaw. It is the least experienced XV to start this World Cup so far, with just 273 caps between them.
Grant Gilchrist, who is short of games, and John Hardie who played such an important role in Scotland’s success last week, are the only two survivors in the pack, with the Scots selecting an entirely new front row in Ryan Grant, Fraser Brown and Jon Welsh, all three of whom played for Glasgow last season. Josh Strauss makes his first start.
While the Scots beat the USA easily enough in Houston last summer, Cotter warned that the Eagles have improved markedly since that day with an influx of players, several of them from the successful USA sevens side that won the final World Rugby series event in London in May. When asked if the USA was a sleeping giant about to wake from its slumbers the coach responded with mock horror.
“Gee, I hope they wait for a while! But they have put a lot of work into their rugby programme and they are developing and they are getting better. They have some excellent players. They have explosive ball carriers in their rugby side now. They are working hard in the background, they have their rugby side performing well and they are a much better side than they were then [last summer].
“I expect them to be very physical, very direct. They have speed and they have size and power. They’ve been improving and I think they’ve done very well to get themselves to the World Cup, improving on the way.
“They’ve had some very good performances, beating Canada by 40 points. They’ve had a week to prepare, they’ve watched us play two days ago, so they will be on the money, I think. But our guys are ready to take that challenge up against them. It will be what it will be.”
In the back division, stand-off Finn Russell doubles up outside Pyrgos and he will have the familiar face of Peter Horne starting outside him. Mark Bennett, a two-try hero from the opening match, will hope to continue to plough a rich vein of form at outside centre while Tim Visser and Sean Maitland get their first starts of the tournament. Stuart Hogg continues at full-back.
Cotter’s team are now in the same position that Japan were against them, facing a physical opposition just four days after a promising win.
“It’s about energy,” the Scotland coach said. “It’s about guys coming in who may have had less game time or had no game time at all. These guys are bursting with enthusiasm and it’s about re-energising ad re-directing that energy to play against a big, powerful team.
“It’s also about recovery for guys who have had more time on the paddock and for others who to step forward and give us that redirection we need. It is what it is and we will try to do our best.”
Scotland XV to face USA at Elland Road, Leeds, on Sunday (2.30pm): Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Tim Visser; Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos (c); Ryan Grant, Fraser Brown, Jon Welsh, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Alasdair Strokosch, John Hardie, Josh Strauss. Subs: Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, Willem Nel, Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson, Greig Laidlaw, Duncan Weir, Matt Scott.