Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Fiji: Autumn Tests 2018 Match Preview pt II – head to heads

[Edinburgh, UK. November 25, 2017] Sean Maitland on the attack for Scotland vs Australia in the Autumn Test at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. (c) ALASTAIR ROSS | Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

The maverick geniuses are in town, bringing high tempo, offloading rugby and playing the game with a smile on their faces. Oh and Fiji will be at Murrayfield as well…This could be the most entertaining Test fixture taking place anywhere in Europe during November. Here’s how the sides match up:

Tale of the tape

61   Tries   43
305   Total caps   115
0   Test debuts   1
29.1   Average age   27.0

870kg   Pack weight   931kg
141   Total caps  221
   Test debuts   0
26.6   Average age   29.7

104   Total caps   42
   Test debuts   1
26.6   Average age   26.9

9 Scotland changes from last Test (v Wales)

  • 15 – Hogg for Kinghorn [+]
  • 12/13 – P. Horne for H. Jones with Dunbar moving from 12 to 13 [-]
  • 11 – Maitland for L. Jones [+]
  • 10 – Russell for Hastings [+]
  • 9 – Laidlaw for Price [+]
  • 2 – Brown for McInally [=]
  • 4 – Skinner for Toolis [-]
  • 5 – Gilchrist for J. Gray [-]
  • 6/7/8 – M. Fagerson for Watson with Wilson to 6 and Ritchie to 7 [-]

15 Setareki Tuicuvu
14 Metui Talebula
13 Semi Radrada
12 Jale Vatubua
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Ben Volavola
9 Frank Lomani
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Fiji
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Alex Dunbar
12 Peter Horne
11 Sean Maitland
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)

1 Campese Ma’afu
2 Sam Matavesi
3 Manasa Saulo
4 Tevita Cavubati
5 Leone Nakarawa
6 D. Waqaniburotu (c)
7 Peceli Yato
8 Viliame Mata

ADV Fiji
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Fiji
ADV Fiji
ADV Scotland
ADV Fiji
ADV Fiji

1 Allan Dell
2 Fraser Brown
3 Willem Nel
4 Sam Skinner
5 Grant Gilchrist
6 Ryan Wilson
7 Jamie Ritchie
8 Matt Fagerson

16 Mesulame Dolokoto
17 Eroni Mawi
18 Kalivate Tawake
19 Albert Tuisue
20 Semi Kunatani
21 Henry Seniloli
22 Alivereti Veitokani
23 Eroni Vasiteri

ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland

16 Stuart McInally
17 Alex Allan
18 Simon Berghan
19 Jonny Gray
20 Josh Strauss
21 George Horne
22 Adam Hastings
23 Chris Harris


Backs – advantage Scotland

There’s a very interesting battle at 10 with Finn Russell taking on his Racing 92 teammate and understudy, Ben Volavola. They should certainly know each other’s games well but for Volavola there’s the same issue that Scotland will face against some of the Fijian superstars – just because you have an idea of what’s coming doesn’t mean you can stop it!

For all the flair on show defensive solidity will remain crucial. As mentioned in Part 1 of the preview the Scottish backline struggled to contain Fiji the last time these sides clashed. It’s worth noting though that the Fijians had their own mishaps in this area during their most recent outing – a surprise defeat at home at the hands of Tonga. Half-backs Lomani and Volavola were particularly culpable, missing nearly 50% of their tackles (8 out of 17 attempted).

Forwards – advantage Fiji

The Fijian pack is a blend of sublime and rather more prosaic talents. NakarawaYato and Mata might grace most Test teams in the world but some of their supporting cast are playing second division rugby. Scotland’s forwards are of a much more consistent standard (although none of them are at the level of Nakarawa). The home side must win their battles as a unit on Saturday if an upset is to be avoided.

Lineouts will be keenly contested with all 3 of the Fijian back row enjoying a height advantage over their Scottish counterparts. In addition 4 of the visitor’s back five in the pack are taller than Scotland’s secondary jumper, Sam Skinner. Chuck in the ridiculous athleticism of Nakarawa for good measure and Fraser Brown and co. may need to mix things up a bit to bamboozle the opposition in order to secure Scotland’s throw.

Subs – advantage Scotland

With a handful of players missing depth is a real issue for the visitors. The presence of the Fijian Drua in the Australian National Rugby Championship for the past two seasons is a first step towards addressing this and getting more players exposure at a higher level. It’s still a big jump to Test match intensity 10,000 miles from home though.

Scotland can call on plenty of experience in the pack and the infectious energy of Hornstings in the backs. As the game develops, Gregor Townsend will have far more options at his disposal than Fiji head coach, John McKee.


– Debut: Sam Skinner. 18th debut and 64th player overall of the Toony Test era.

– Home debuts: Jamie Ritchie; Matt Fagerson; George Horne; Adam Hastings.

– The Fiji squad come from a disparate array of clubs and domestic competitions. They have 11 players from top tier leagues with the remaining 12 plying their trade in the 2nd rung of English, French or Australian rugby:

  • 4 – Premiership
  • 1 – PRO14
  • 6 – Top 14
  • 3 – Championship
  • 4 – PRO D2
  • 5 – National Rugby Championship

– All of Scotland’s players come from teams in the top European leagues:

  • 4 – Premiership
  • 17 – PRO14
  • 2 – Top 14

– There are only 7 players from each of the matchday 23s who played when these sides last met in 2017. Willem Nel and Peter Horne (12 instead of 10 as he was in that previous game) are the only Scots to start both fixtures.

– Sean Maitland has scored a try on each of his last 3 appearances at Murrayfield for Scotland (v England, France and Australia).

– Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar have started on 23 occasions as a centre combination for Glasgow but this is their first time in the 12 and 13 jerseys together for Scotland.

– This will be the first game for club or country in which Jonny Gray has been named among the substitutes for over 3 ½ years. Hopefully he remembers what to do when warming the bench! 

– The place of 7s as a development tool for Scottish rugby has frequently been under the microscope. The kings of the abbreviated form of the game, Fiji, actually only have 7 players in their line-up who have played in the 7s World Series. That’s the same number of Scots with experience of those tournaments who played in last week’s Test match against Wales.

33 Responses

  1. Advantage Fiji at number 4: having read that Sam Skinner is a standout player for Exeter in one of the best packs in Europe I looked him up. 5 games for Ospreys in a season, 20 for Worcester over 2 seasons and (it looks like on Wikipedia) 1 game for Falcons since 2017. If that’s true then, whilst the number of caps is different, it seems harsh for it to be advantage Fiji.

    Does anyone know if that Wikipedia stat is true as if he’s only played one game for Falcons since 2017 he could be a tad undercooked tomorrow. And how have Skinner and he compared when they’ve met in the Prem?

    1. Cavubati is a solid citizen, 20 caps and a good foil for Naka – doing the hard graft and allowing Leone to go where he wants. He’s played 6 times for Newcastle so far this season. Closer to the end of his career for sure and Skinner could well turn out a far better player in the end.

  2. Hornstings is brilliant. Not heard of it before although probably been out there for a while. Actually sums up their characters quite well too.

  3. How this 23 goes tomorrow will give us and interested onlookers a good chance to see whether the strength and depth of Scottish rugby has improved – something many of us feel has indeed happened over the last four or five years despite the occasional, frustrating banana skins like Fiji 17 and USA this year. 64 different Test players selected in Toonie’s relatively short reign was a surprising stat for me.

  4. Based on the size of their forward pack I think we’re going to have to try to move them around as much as we can and hope our bench can finish them off in the last 20.

    Reasonable chance of some showers tomorrow afternoon which might makes things interesting.

    Hoggy and Russell will both be fancying a run at them since they missed the loss in Fiji. Can see those two testing the defensive frailties of the opposition half backs at every opportunity.

  5. No Nandolo, Matawalu, Tuisova or that French Flanker/Centre beast. Not close to a full strength Fiji side.

  6. If I were Fiji I would be looking at our flat defence ( contributed to the Davies try) , the drift cover or lack thereoff and the huge size of the Murrayfield dead ball.

    Thankfully , no Matawalu to get on the end of them.

  7. I am beginning to love this section more and more , I can almost hear Bill McLaren saying something like this :

    A fine autumnal day at Murrayfield sees the Scots fielding 550 caps in the matchday 23 by contract to a Fijian side with a combined total of 378.

    The halfback pairing of Laidlaw and Russell with exactly a century between them.

    A highly experienced back three of Hogg , Maitland and Seymour boast 140 caps , by way of contrast the Scottish front three only 57 between them.

    The boiler house has new cap Sam Skinner and only 26 times capped Grant Gilchrist with the experineced Gray on the bench.

    They face Rugby World ranked number 3 in the the top 100 players,Leone Nakarawa ‘the weegie fae Fiji ‘ and Tevita Cavubati a who have a combined total of 70 caps.

    A highly criticised scots pack, in light of its failure to dominate 7 man Wales in the closing minutes of last week’s test in Cardiff is giving away a combined total of 61kg.

    Good article kevin

  8. Fascinating game in prospect, Scotland will need to play proper hard rugby as some of the Fiji boys are very capable of doing some real damage.

    Play the game in their 22, put the phases together, keep the ball. Our forwards on the bench are as strong as the starters.

    Scotland with Russell & Hogg on the field will score points, need to ensure that Mata & Nakawara dont get space to run / front foot ball.

    Big game for a few boys today, including Dell.

  9. The bloggers in here are as inconsistent as Toonie.

    We get beaten by Wales, in a game we had the talent to win. The frustrated and angry are advised we are a much better side stop ‘cver reacting’.

    This week the same pacifiers are on imodium tablets saying how it is vital we dont lose.

    I suggest we all get our glass full attitude and a full glass before kickoff as it will be a great game of rugby.

  10. Just going to point out the Brace got the opening penalty wrong – Fiji played the ball on the ground prior to Wilson messing around.

      1. He did OK, didn’t he? Still made some silly errors, and offered less power than Dunbar, but maybe more speed?

  11. Fantastic to keep Fiji pointless in 2nd half.

    Who needs Jonny Gray, Finally a grafter who can carry to get rid of Jonny G.

    Hastings/Russell for the last 10 minutes lit up fiji.

    Strauss was a game changer when he came on, Excactly what we have been missing. Finally Toony took my advice.

    Ritchie was my MoM.

    Team for next week.

    1. Dell
    2. Brown
    3. Nel
    4. Skinner
    5. Gilchrist
    6. Strauss
    7. Watson
    8. Thompson
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Seymour
    12. Scott
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg

    16. Mcinally
    17. Allan
    18. Berghan
    19. Gray
    20. Ritchie
    21. Horne
    22. Hastings
    23. Dunbar

    Was nice to see Harris show some kind of form… Easy when you on the front foot and ahead by 20 points though.

    1. Watching at the ground I thought Fagerson was playing well before he went off. And that’s a pretty harsh assessment of JG’s international career!

      1. Why did he go off? Was he injured?

        I think that’s Jonny Gray’s lowest tackle count in a game ever: 1 made, 0 missed. Still 100%, though. Skinner looks good, but I’m glad that Toonie’s rather smarter than Neil and won’t drop JG on such specious – and inaccurate – reasoning.

  12. Neil Neil Neil Neil………………JG is a very good player, if he is a AWJ or a POC is still to be decided. Skinner played well today but steady on.

    Today we ,ultimately, did exactly what was required, initially gave them the chance to play and they did.

    Dunbar was caught cold early on but played well.
    Scotland are a different beast with Hogg, Russell, Laidlaw on the field.
    Skinner, Ritchie, Brown stood out
    I thought P.Horne did well, whatever anyone’s thoughts, he has the heart of a lion.
    Interesting the interchange between Russell and Hastings at the end….
    If fit, Blade T starts @ 8 next week.

    1. Horne’s butchering of the try rather sums him up – he had an excellent game, but can’t resist one WTF moment in every game.

  13. Furthermore…. remember…..Taylor, H.Jones, Watson, Hardie, Thompson, Denton,
    J.Gray, Fagarson all not in the 23 today

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