Why Scotland are playing Australia outside Test window and the ‘stress’ Edinburgh and Glasgow will face

Mark Dodson has defended Scottish Rugby’s decision to arrange a fixture against Australia outside the autumn international window.

Scotland beat Australia 15-13 at BT Murrayfield last autumn. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland beat Australia 15-13 at BT Murrayfield last autumn. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The Wallabies will visit Murrayfield on October 28 and are likely to face a Scotland team comprised entirely of home-based personnel.

English and French teams are under no obligation to release their players to national sides on a weekend that is designated for club matches.

It means Scotland coach Gregor Townsend’s squad for the Australia game will be drawn from Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

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But both Scottish pro teams are due to play league fixtures in the United Rugby Championship that weekend, so face the prospect of going into their matches against Cardiff and Benetton respectively without their leading Scotland internationals.

It effectively means that Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow will all field weakened teams across the weekend.

Home international fixtures are huge revenue drivers for the Scottish Rugby Union and Dodson, the SRU chief executive, believes the chance to slot in an extra Test match in the autumn was too good to turn down.

He says the money generated will be reinvested in the game and also said it would be good to “stress” Edinburgh and Glasgow by forcing their coaches, Mike Blair and Franco Smith, to “blood more academy players”.

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“We purposely stress the teams, and we purposely stress the system, so we can work out exactly what we have to do,” said Dodson. “We generate an awful lot of players from our own system here in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, and our coaches there have got to realise that sometimes they’ll be stressed and they’ve got injuries on top of that, but we’ve also got to perform at international level.”

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Scotland will play four autumn internationals in total, with Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina all scheduled to visit Murrayfield after the Wallabies. The three later games all fall inside the international window. Dodson said the benefits of playing four games were not only financial and would aid Townsend.

“We’re doing three things. We’ve taken a risk against Australia by only having Glasgow and Edinburgh [players],” said Dodson. “That game generates more income than a pile of URC games put together.

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“Secondly, there’s a desire from the management team nationally to have four fixtures, so they can test themselves.

“Thirdly, Mike and Franco have got to understand that this happens. This is part of our strategy going forward. And it will mean they’ll have to use a squad – they’ve both got decent-sized squads now.”

When the United Rugby Championship was launched last autumn it removed fixtures from international weekends in a bid to make the league stronger. Its predecessor, the Guinness Pro14, would continue during international windows, forcing the clubs to field weakened teams.

Glasgow Warriors are scheduled to host Benetton on Friday, October 28, the night before Scotland play Australia. Edinburgh will take on Cardiff away on Sunday, October 30. Neither Italy nor Wales have matches that weekend so Benetton and Cardiff are likely to be at full strength.

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Dodson added: “Our job is to make Scottish rugby as a whole greater, either financially or from a sporting perspective. And the money that we’ll gain from that fixture [versus Australia] goes straight back into the game.”

Scotland beat Australia 15-13 last autumn during the international window.

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