In Europe, Glasgow’s top flight pack were undone by the brutalising physicality of Leinster and Exeter packs. They will probably be in for more of the same vs Vern’s Montpellier but first up many of those same players will haul on the navy of Scotland for a bruising set of autumn internationals.
Gregor Townsend has talked in the past about playing the fastest brand of rugby in world which to me sounds like they need to find Niko Matawalu a Scottish Granny. Vern Cotter’s organising principle was “organised chaos”, and the organisation aspect of that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Allied to a traditional fast rucking game, it might even trying to keep the ball out of contact which works if it works, but quickly gets messy and hands over possession if you are having an off day. It plays to the strengths of a backline that even with the injury crisis engulfing the pack could see Ali Price, Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Huw Jones line up. You can see what style of play is going to be more likely.
The main issue is: what happens when you get shut down? Dave Rennie already identified the need for Glasgow to play more through the middle before going wide. If you always go wide, then the defence has plenty of time to spread. The rise of Ali Price will at least keep defences honest around the ruck where Greig Laidlaw was less of a threat.
The need to play at pace leaves us with the worry that Scotland will be left with a lightwieght pack unable to repsond physcially when the ball is constantly foulded up in a heap of bodies. Or when opposition line speed is so quick that the backline doesn’t have the extra time to work the magic and a new approach is required.
I am sure that Toony has an alternative plan that works when the fast chaotic style comes unstuck.
First up this weekend are Samoa: not known for their structured, set-piece heavy play so it’s unlikely to give Scotland much of a chance to find an answer. Actually a test against a team like Georgia would have been ideal here. The real test of how this approach works against structure won’t be until the big one against New Zealand which if they don’t have an answer, could be brutally unforgiving. As usual, the All Blacks are the prototype for a blend of both: structure until there is an opportunity, then play fast and wide when a hole opens up – and don’t mess it up.
Samoa have come with troubles hovering above them – the Samoan government announced this week that their Rugby Union is bankrupt. The game apparently goes ahead with World Rugby’s insurance covering it – even as they’ve announced increased investment in the region today – and it is a shame that the perpetual struggles of the Pacific Island nations to make anything from a game they provide so much to have re-appeared.
This game could ironically see an end to rugby tests in Scotland’s own outlying regions with the news that more than 60,000 tickets have been sold with the last few set to be available on the day and the other two games sold out. With the game in Scotland now on a relatively secure financial footing, should Scotland be leading the charge to get help for the Samoan union as one of the few countries to tour there in recent years?
You imagine the Samoan team will be glad to turn attention to purely rugby matters which could make them a determined and dangerous opposition.
For Scotland, the highlighted trouble area is the front row where injuries have deprived Scotland of two thirds of their first choices (Dickinson, Dell, Ford and Brown). Rory Sutherland is only just back to full fitness and George Turner looked like he picked up a knock playing for Glasgow last weekend. Things are a little rosier on the tighthead with both WP Nel and Zander Fagerson fit, although Nel has looked some way off his best and Simon Berghan is in barnstorming form for Edinburgh.
Unsurprisingly 3 of the four uncapped players in Townsend’s team are front rowers. Darryl Marfo will start on his first cap while Jamie Bhatti and George Turner wait on the bench. Stuart McInally has the hookers shirt while Nel gets the tighthead shirt. It’s an ideal chance to blood a new front row combination.
Otherwise it is probably the strongest team available with Lee Jones on the wing probably about the only tricky choice in the backs once Alex Dunbar was fit. If the pack click and get them on the front foot, the damage that Finn Russell and co could unleash is truly exciting. The only worry is that they treat it like Fiji in the summer and assume the job is done before it kicks off.
In the pack, Ben Toolis gets the other lock place and John Barclay will captain the side from blindside flanker. Ryan Wilson packs down at Number 8 and vice captain – Stuart Hogg is also named as a vice captain.
With all the injuries, the bench is not quite as strong as we would hope but could see Newcastle Falcons centre Chris Harris get a cap in the backs. Front row aside there is plenty of experience so let’s hope they are used rather than trying to keep the first choice XV on as long as possible and risking tiredness against the All Blacks next weekend where many of these players will be required.
It looks like a good team, as long as they can stay focused injury free.
Scotland team to face Samoa
15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. Lee Jones, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price; 1. Darryl Marfo, 2. Stuart McInally, 3. Willem Nel, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Jonny Gray,
6. John Barclay (Capt), 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: 16. George Turner, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Zander Fagerson, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. Cornell Du Preez, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Pete Horne, 23. Chris Harris.
Kick off 2.30pm live coverage on BBC Sport.