Six key Scotland decisions Gregor Townsend must make on team to play Australia

Scotland’s ten-try demolition job on Tonga was completed with a squad of entirely home-based players – but the cavalry has now arrived.

Eight players made their Scotland debut against Tonga - Marshall Sykes, Pierre Schoeman, Ross Thompson, Jamie Hodgson, Luke Crosbie, Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie and Sione Tuipulotu. How many will be retained for the Australia game? (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Eight players made their Scotland debut against Tonga - Marshall Sykes, Pierre Schoeman, Ross Thompson, Jamie Hodgson, Luke Crosbie, Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie and Sione Tuipulotu. How many will be retained for the Australia game? (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Chris Harris et al are available for the remainder of the Autumn Nations Series, starting with Sunday’s game against Australia.

The availability of the English and French-based players strengthens Gregor Townsend’s squad, but leaves the coach with some tough decisions.

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Here are the key areas under consideration ahead of the team announcement on Friday.

Wings

Kyle Steyn and Rufus McLean stole the show against Tonga, bagging six of the ten tries in a clinical display of finishing. But strange as it may sound, it’s unlikely either will start on Sunday. If fit, expect to see Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham fill the wing berths. Club duties prevented van der Merwe featuring against Tonga and he got off the mark for his new team, scoring two tries in Worcester’s win over Sale. A timely reminder of his qualities. In the absence of Hogg, Graham filled in at full-back at Murrayfield and posed a real attacking threat. Four-try Steyn and two-try McLean look like being left to fight it out for a place on the bench. McLean’s electric pace should see him get the nod but Steyn’s versatility – he can also play centre – might work in his favour.

Centres

Glasgow pair Sam Johnson and Sione Tuipulotu impressed against Tonga but the returning Harris will have his sights set on reclaiming the No 13 jersey. The Gloucester man offers defensive ballast and his outstanding form for Scotland last season earned him a well deserved Lions call. He is a real favourite of Townsend’s and is likely to be paired with Johnson.

Duhan van der Merwe scored a try double for Worcester Warriors and is likely to start for Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Stand-off

Finn Russell has been benched by Racing 92 for their last two games but expect him to start for Scotland on Sunday. Adam Hastings has made a bright start to his Gloucester career but is likely to have to be content with a place on the bench, unless Townsend plays a wild card and tries to accommodate both tens by playing one at centre. Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson look set to sit this one out.

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Hooker

Finn Russell trains with Scotland at Oriam. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The absence, due to neck injuries, of the hugely experienced Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally opened the door for George Turner and Dave Cherry at the Six Nations. Both seized the opportunity and it was significant that Turner got the nod to start against Tonga even though McInally was back in the squad. Brown remains absent with a knee injury and Townsend faces a tricky decision on his starting hooker against the Aussies. McInally might edge it for his throwing.

Loosehead

The withdrawal of Rory Sutherland with a side muscle injury is a real blow but Pierre Schoeman did well on his debut against Tonga. The loosehead is lighter and fitter than last season and has regularly played the full 80 minutes for Edinburgh. He should get the nod, with Jamie Bhatti as back up.

Second row

Scotland are light at lock, with Jonny Gray and Scott Cumming notable absentees. Grant Gilchrist was excluded from the Tonga match, presumably with one eye on bigger tests to come, and the Edinburgh captain is likely to return on Sunday, possibly in tandem with Exeter’s Sam Skinner.

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