Scotland v Fiji: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt I

KO 2.30 at Murrayfield
Saturday 10th November

Live on BBC1

Scottish rugby loves Fijians. Leone Nakarawa is arguably the best player ever to feature for Glasgow. Niko Matawalu is a Scotstoun fan favourite and his hat-trick a few days ago cemented him in 3rd place all-time among Warriors’ top try scorers (later this month he should also make his 100th appearance for the club). Over on the East coast they may not have experienced the Fijiweegie phenomenon but Bill Mata is currently setting new standards in terms of attacking work rate for Edinburgh and providing a fine example for the capital club’s young guns to aspire to.

It’s not quite the same though when that blistering array of offensive talent is arrayed against you instead of for you! Scotland fans will no doubt appreciate the sublime skill levels the Flying Fijians will bring to Murrayfield but the home support will be hoping and praying it’s all in the cause of a losing effort. As long as the dark blues come out on top then the visitors can entertain away to their hearts’ content!

This will be just the 12th match for Fiji against a Tier 1 side in the last two World Cup cycles (excluding RWCs themselves). Hopefully whatever new season structure World Rugby alight upon will provide more regular top level fixtures for Fiji and more frequent visits to the islands by the biggest teams.

Argentina – 0 games
Australia – 1
New Zealand – 0
South Africa – 0
England – 2

France – 1 (also playing them later this month)
Ireland – 1
Italy – 3 (1 of them in Fiji)
Scotland – 3 (2 of them in Fiji)

Wales – 1

Fiji Scouting Report

  • The hardest working man in rugby?

    Since the start of the last World Cup, Leone Nakarawa has played 105 games (98 starts) for club and country. Plus the Paris 7s and Olympic 7s tournament during the spring and summer of 2016. Oh and a 7s Rugby World Cup during his off-season in 2018. Overall he’s played 7,931 minutes of 15-a-side rugby with as many as 31 games to come for Racing 92 and Fiji before the big man even gets to the RWC warm-up matches – let alone the tournament itself.

    For context Leone’s erstwhile second row partner at Glasgow, Jonny Gray, has played 82 times (all starts) for 6,254 minutes across the same period. New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick has managed 73 appearances (68 starts) and 5,270 minutes. How much is too much when it comes to the workload of one of the best players in the world?

  • There will be tries

    Fiji will almost certainly cross the whitewash at some stage. In the last 7 years only Georgia in a one-off match in Suva have held the Fijians tryless. Scotland haven’t been too parsimonious when it comes to shutting out their opposition either, only managing nil in the tries against column 5 times over that same period. Gregor Townsend’s team have to be confident enough not to allow any Fijian breakthroughs to derail their own processes – when (rather than if) the visitors notch a try there cannot be any hint of heads going down or not believing the side is good enough to overcome the setback.

    Scotland themselves are on a record run in this respect – 23 consecutive matches with a try scored, which is the longest streak in the national side’s history. The capacity crowd at Murrayfield should be in for a treat.

  • RWC preparation

    Almost every team participating in the Autumn Tests has one eye on the World Cup for next year. Fiji are facing up to a near facsimile of their pool from the 2015 tournament. Australia, Wales and Uruguay are all there again but this time it’s Georgia instead of England.

    Given that group it’s clear that toppling a Tier 1 side in a big match is the only real route to a quarter-final. Games against Scotland and France are the islanders’ last opportunities to test themselves at this level before the real action starts next September. A big scalp now would set Fiji up well for that tournament and therefore this match will be a significant target for them.

Previous results

Fiji have been playing Test rugby for over 80 years but have only met Scotland 7 times before, including visits to Murrayfield in 1989, 2002 and 2009. The overall sequence of results between the two sides looks like this from a Scottish perspective:

 L  W  W  W  W  L

The last time Fiji were in Edinburgh, Scotland eased to a 23-10 win with tries from Johnnie Beattie and Graeme Morrison. Phil Godman added 13 points from the tee in a game which saw the visitors with the lion’s share of possession and doing most of the running.

The most recent meeting between the two countries was in Suva during the summer of 2017:

Fiji 27 – 22 Scotland

Significant stat:
32: defenders beaten by Fiji (Scotland managed 9). The key Fijian attacking threats were in irresistible form leading to the Scottish defence missing 1 in 4 of their tackles. Leone Nakarawa (6) and Josua Tuisova (7) were the biggest threats but don’t ignore the contribution of La Rochelle full back Kini Murimurivalu (5) who severely punished any loose kicking. Scotland will know what’s coming but even then it’s still incredibly difficult to stop them!

Officials

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant 1: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Mr. Brace has just a handful of previous Test matches behind him. This will be his first time refereeing Scotland but most of the players in dark blue should be very familiar with the official from PRO14 action. The Irish whistler (who is actually Welsh!) does a nice line in a 1000-yard stare once his decision is made and doesn’t tend to invite much discussion – Ryan Wilson beware!

At domestic level he tends to be quick with the cards. Given Fiji’s predilections for drawing sin bins (9 in their last 9 Tests) there’s a reasonable chance Scotland may spend a part of the match a man up. If they do then they will need to more ruthless in taking advantage than they were against Wales last weekend.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr. Brace in charge:

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

39 comments on “Scotland v Fiji: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt I

  1. The Chiel on

    Re the officials, still astonished Brace was allowed to ref Argentina v Wales. Not just the PRO14 who put refs in difficult positions. To confuse it even further, he’s a Belgian rugby international .

    Dickson is the latest ex-player to be fast tracked as a ref. Done pretty well from what I’ve seen of him.

    Reply
  2. Referendum on

    One thing that is worth pointing to from the welsh performance is how nothing of the usual poor plays were highlighted too much in the debrief.

    Restarts were mostly ok. Can remember one Dodgy one. But it wasn’t a virus like usual.

    Lineouts were perfect in retaining possession. One resulted in turnout after the drive.

    Scrums were solid and were even with penalties against both side. We were never overan and except for the very dodgy pen against 7 I think we edged it.

    Only thing that was constantly wayward was Hastings kicking. Don’t think that was so much a coaching issue as execution and bad individual decision making.

    Lots to take positives from. However Fiji are going to expose us. And we need to be nature enough not to panic nor to get sucked in to the loose game. I think Horne Peter starting could swing this our way.

    Here’s hoping

    Reply
    • Jock in Paddyland on

      Yes, Hastings’ kicking was ineffective, whether it was the little kicks ahead that didn’t work, the missed touch, or simply kicking possession away.

      Reply
  3. Big Al on

    Think this game is going to be a cracker. If we can get our defence sorted then this is very winnable with a good show. However, if we turn out another 25% missed tackle performance with a significant number of turnovers we’ll be in serious trouble. Going to need our best tacklers (Gray) and jacklers (Watson, Dunbar, Brown) on the park from the start. Got to try and subdue Nakarawa and Mata.

    Reply
    • Ben F on

      I will be happy if it is just a good clean running game. Rugby is a game for piano players and piano shifters. I am not looking forward to the day that someone tells the Fijian forwards that they are just here for the shifting.

      Hello Fiji , welcome to Scotland.

      Reply
      • FF on

        Don’t care if the game is quality or not. We have to win otherwise this will be a huge blow to our credibility and we risk becoming the punchline to every rugby joke again.

      • Alanyst on

        Winning should be (as always) the very strong priority, but neither team is noted for its defense, and inventive attackers exist in each side.

        There will be several tries for each side, I think, so playing an open game (not “loose” however) and winning are very compatible…

        Controlling the “tempo” is essential

      • Ben F on

        Alanyst : Exactly right this is a entirely different side to Wales, different location and tempo to the game.

        Get the basics right , enjoy playing rugby and kick our penaltys when presented.

        Interesting , I never said I did not want to win.

  4. Referendum on

    Seems a very inexperienced group of officials. Hope Skeen doesn’t bully them from the box and they do take some decisions without refering too much. why not have an experienced assistant there to help bring the ref through. (This comment might come back to bite me)

    Does anyone have the answer to why Scotland number eights don’t score tries in internationals? The players score for their clubs. Is it the way we play? We know why we have so many Hooker tries at present but why such a lack of tries for the number eights?

    Wilson (38 caps) – 0
    Denton (42 caps) – 0
    Strauss (14 caps) – 0
    Ashe (6 caps) – 0

    Exactly 100 caps between them not a try amongst them.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
  5. Ben F on

    What an interesting post, worthy of many replies I hope. I was going to suggest how do the other nations look but we know Faletau, Parisse, Healsip, Vuniwhatever etc all score tries. Even John Beattie (whom we rubbished unfairly in here based in his last perfromnce) scored 3 in 33 matches.

    What is wrong with this lot? Retreating Scrums ? desire to feed the backs in parricular my favourite ? No surely not, definately not, even I would not suggest/believe that one.

    Great post, love to understand this one better.

    Reply
    • Martin on

      Not all of those 100 caps would have been played at 8 (some would likely double up as well). We don’t generally use our no.8 as a first phase attack from the scrum – I would say primarily because we have better 1st phase set plays out the back and also to an extent we don’t have many scrums that have such dominance that our 8 picks up and barrels over. The recent phenom in hooker tries is probably because our maul attack has improved and we use the hooker as the late hit ball carrier at the back, but also when we do have phase play in and around our opposition our hookers are generally better at getting lower and getting over the whitewash than our backrow as a whole (JG seems to be getting better as well double movmement aside !!!). Another reason for lack of tries is that we don’t tend to structure our multi phased back play with forwards hanging out on the wing unlike other countries (thinking NZ & Wales specifically here) – we tend to rely on our forwards staying tight.

      All that said, I do think there is great merit in the ‘tone’ of the question being that all said and done it is troubling that our 8’s don’t crash over the line. I do think in the future, Fagerson and Bradbury, if playing – will arrest a bit of this negative trend – but I would say the current fundamental structure of our attack play will result in it still being a less fruitful area for tries unless the patterns change – which may happen. Horses for courses and all that

      Reply
      • Ben F on

        Maybe we just never complete a scrum as we get too excited and give away penalties close to their line , like we did , in Cardiff, against 14 men.

      • FF on

        I think the elephant in the room is that Denton and Wilson in particular are just not particularly good.

        I realise both have their merits, but you’d pick any other 6N number 8 in a heartbeat, right?

        Maybe Blade will be our saviour!

      • Scrummo on

        Not that long ago we were awful at all aspects of try scoring.

        We’ve now got a cracking set of backs who can score for fun and a maul that routinely puts the hookers in.

        You can only score so many tries and we are hardly lacking for them now so perhaps it’s just the game plan.

      • 1.8T on

        Interesting discussion chaps. Martin I think you make a good point in that we don’t seem to ever have forwards lurking on the wing “poaching”, it’s obviously not part of the game plan. FF I agree that I would have any of the other 6N no8s before ours so there is a lack of standout talent. I don’t really care about tries scored from a particular position. I am of the mindset that (unless it’s some ridiculous solo effort) for the majority of tries it doesn’t really matter who dots the ball down, it’s a team effort that gets the ball to that position and having a no8 (or any position in the fwds, no8 is just the most natural) who can cause issues from the base is a good thing.

        VC and I think more so now Toonies mantra has been for mobile backrows though who can get to rucks and fling the ball about a bit. They don’t see a place for a donkey. I know he kind of left the Scotland team in disgrace after a terrible game but I was always a huge fan of Johnnie Beattie as a textbook no8; big, powerful, relatively fast and quite skillful. It’s no coincidence that the “killer bs” were our best backrow combo, the balance was perfect, a tackler, a jackler and a carrier. All 3 were good players in their own right which obviously helped. Also that reminds me of how shabbily Kelly Brown was treated, damned Scott Johnson….

      • Malky on

        1.8T – spot on about the Killer Bs. Looks like KB is coaching at Saracens now, hope he does well. I think JB’s poor last game for Scotland was due to having to spend the entire game tackling, not best use of his talent…

  6. Greenhorn on

    If Scotland want to be a serious rugby nation we have to beat Fiji and Argentina and give SA a game in the next few weekends.

    Reply
  7. TheSmidge on

    Assume the team isn’t out until tomorrow, unlike last week. For what it’s worth, I would go:

    1. Dell
    2. Brown
    3. Nel
    4. Gilchrist
    5. Gray
    6. Wilson
    7. Watson
    8. Fagerson
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Maitland
    12. Dunbar
    13. Jones
    14. Kinghorn (or Graham if Hogg unfit)
    15. Hogg (or Kinghorn if unfit)

    16. McInally
    17. Allan
    18. McCallum
    19. Skinner
    20. Ashe
    21. Horne
    22. Hastings
    23. Grigg

    Reply
    • The Cheil on

      Think Gray & Watson, maybe Wilson & Nel in the forwards will be rested for this one. They shouldn’t play all 4 games – no one should.
      Is that Horne P or G on the bench – assume G ?

      Reply
    • Warks Scot on

      Largely agree though on the bench probably have Berghan instead of McCallum, Strauss instead of Ashe & possibly P Horne over Grigg. With Rambo on the bench, also means we can swap captains fairly easily assuming Laidlaw is skipper at the start.
      As it is a big advantage having a competent line-out taker at the back, think we have to play either Wilson or Harley in the back row & Wilson would get the nod from me.

      Reply
  8. SAS on

    I’m happy and confident to see Duncan Weir back, the guy is bread and butter, starting or from the bench I’m happy , he’s always been sold and is currently playing very well for Worcester Warriors, good choice Mr T

    Reply
  9. tam on

    It would be great to see Duncan Weir back – he’s got a thing or two to show some folk hasn’t he but how much of an impact can he make if he comes off the bench. The major thing is that those coming of the bench must provide intensity. Gregor after all wants to show the world the quickest form of rugby which at times has been visible but to be honest I’m still raging over the loss over the Fijians last time.

    Reply
    • Ben F on

      I get it now. Duncan Weir has become very popular at Worcester and from what I can see his kick precision is inch perfect. We dont want to risk loose kicks to Fiji in the last 20, Just put it down there and force the errors in their half.

      Lets hope he can get his timing right for international level again.

      Reply
    • Frozen North on

      Thanks for sharing this article…I was feeling quite let down by Huw’s performance until reading this. It brings a balanced perspective on Jones tackling effort.

      Reply
  10. Neil on

    Forwards
    1. Alex Allan
    2. Stuart Mcinally
    3. Simon Berghan
    4. Grant Gilchrist
    5. Rob Harley
    6. Adam Ashe
    7. Hamish Watson
    8. Matt Fagerson
    Backs
    9. George Horne
    10. Adam Hastings
    11. Tommy Seymour
    12. Alex Dunbar
    13. Huw Jones
    14. Sean Maitland
    15. Blair Kinghorn

    16. Fraser Brown
    17. Allan Dell
    18. Wp Nel
    19. Jonny Gray
    20. Josh Strauss
    21. Greig Laidlaw
    22. Finn Russell
    23. Stuart Hogg

    This could work also…

    P.S while Pete Horne is a classy player, he has been off form all season so people suggesting he should be starting are abit bonkers. Needs to regain form and start playing 12 again.

    Reply
  11. Tommi on

    Agree with FF we simply cannot lose against Fiji or Argentina otherwise it’s back to the old days. My English mates are just starting to give the Scottish team due respect but it’s taken a while. Re Weir why oh why is he back? We have our No 10’s sorted in Russel and Hastings with Horne in reserve. If Townshend picks Weir ahead of Hastings then I seriously question his selection skills. That would be a joke guys.

    Reply
    • Fred on

      Not disagreeing but a few comments for your english mates.

      My English mates at Worcester says they love Weir (and thought Denton kept them up last season) and as for respect , if we get beaten by Fiji, it will be the same side that beat England rather respectably in the 6N. Where does that leave them.

      Weir is not the future , however I think that missed touch by Hastings in Wales set the tone. We do need to beat Fiji and if we need a bit of occasional help from the past . is that really bad !

      Reply
      • FF on

        Personally I like Weir even if he isn’t really good enough at test level. He’s had enough good performances to have plenty of credit in the bank and should know he still has a chance to add to his cap tally.

        But as for comparison to England, where do we begin? I loved England’s difficulties over the last year but frankly they have won the 6N twice since the last World Cup, we’ve never managed it in 19 years of trying. They have the joint record for consecutive yet victories achieved in the last couple of years. They’ve never lost to Fiji, or Tonga, or Samoa, or Japan, or USA, or Italy, or Romania.

        So yes, if we want to be considered serious rivals to teams like England and not just an occasional banana skin, we have to stop losing to tier 2 countries and start winning away from home. Losing to Fiji will be same old Scotland. Our challenge now is to keep progressing and leave that history in the last. Just like Iteland have done.

      • Andy_N on

        What does ‘not the Future’ actually mean? next World Cup? World Cup after that?? He’s only 27.

        The reason I think we need Weir is that it’s absolutely no use having two 10’s in your matchday squad who play the same way, you need to have player who can change the game – so if Finnsanity is working, he stays on – if it’s not, you put on Weir – simples.

      • Fred on

        If England are that good, why is Scotland their occasional banana skin!

        Duncan Weir has been overlooked at both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Life is not fair. The SRU dont see his future with them, simples!!

        He should enjoy what games he gets and as we know , he will not let us down.

  12. Referendum on

    Saying we lose to Fiji and it’s back to same old Scotland is a compete overreaction. Fiji could be coming into a very rich period in their history. Should we lose (a huge disappointment) then maybe it’ll be seen in context after the word cup.

    However we are miles away from old, boring, white line fever, kick the penalties to win, choke when it matters Scotland, no matter the result tomorrow. We have a team to be proud of and one who have made huge strides in most areas of play over the last few years. We still have lots to do and the comparison with England and how they put away the tier two teams is fair but we’ve got great results in the bank from the last few seasons.

    I’ve rewatched some of the performances of the last year over the last few days and some of them are sensational. Australia was ruthless and gutsy both in summer and autumn of 2017. We’d have lost 5 years ago against the 14 men. England was brilliant yet in the balance for a long time. Only in the last ten mins was it secure. New Zealand was all round incredible. Watched Argentina too and was from the start clinical.

    Lets not over react to what could happen tomorrow.

    Reply

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