Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Japan, Autumn Nations Series 2021: Team announcement

Autumn Nations Series - Scotland v Japan

770 days on from Typhoon Hagibis and Scotland being blown away by the brilliance of Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Gregor Townsend’s men have the chance to earn a modicum of revenge when the Brave Blossoms visit Murrayfield on Saturday.

The rematch should have taken place during last season’s fan free Autumn Nations Cup but the Japanese had to withdraw from that tournament due to travel restrictions. This time it will be the Scots who have a full house to inspire them.

For the final game of the Autumn Nations Series 2021, Toony has gone with a blend of his first-choice side and developing options and depth in some positions.

There are 7 changes to the starting XV, with 5 players who didn’t feature against South Africa and 2 promoted from last week’s bench. There are 2 further additions from outside the 23 with both tighthead prop Javan Sebastian and back row Dylan Richardson named as subs and in line to make their first appearances for Scotland. They will be the 46th and 47th debutants of the Townsend era and will take the total number of players used during this period up to 96.


Five of the starting backline filled the same positions for the World Cup clash with Japan. Ali Price (in place of Greig Laidlaw) and Duhan van der Merwe (for Tommy Seymour) are the duo who didn’t experience the disappointment of Yokohama.

In fact, that game against the Brave Blossoms was the last one Price missed for Scotland – he has started all but one of the dark blues’ Test matches since the RWC and is the only back to start all 4 games in the Autumn Nations Series.

Darcy Graham and Sam Johnson are recalled having missed the game with South Africa. They are almost unquestionably the incumbents for their respective jerseys with Johnson having started 21 of 31 Tests at inside centre since his debut in 2019 and Graham filling the 14 shirt for 9 of the 14 games played in the last year.


In the pack, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie are the only returning starters from the last meeting with the Japanese – although both Zander Fagerson and Scott Cummings were on the bench for that previous encounter. Ritchie and Fagerson are the only forwards to start all 4 fixtures in the Autumn Nations Series. Jamie Bhatti, Pierre Schoeman, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson have been in the matchday 23s for all of the November Tests.

Having benched last week against South Africa Jamie Bhatti will make his first-ever start for Scotland at Murrayfield. His previous appearances in the number 1 jersey came in Houston against the US in 2018 and in Nice versus France during the 2019 World Cup warm-up matches.

George Turner’s return to the starting lineup may well cement his case to be Scotland’s current first-choice hooker. This will be his 7th start for the national side in their last 9 Tests. Scott Cummings has had to wait a little longer for his return, having missed the dark blues’ last 5 matches. Until that point he had played 20 Tests in a row since his debut.

The recast back row sees Hamish Watson return to the number 7 shirt he has owned for the last 5 years. Josh Bayliss replaces Matt Fagerson and will make his first start having debuted off the bench against Australia. He will be the 9th different player to wear the number 8 jersey during the Townsend era.


Among the substitutes, Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman, Sam Skinner and Matt Fagerson all started a bruising encounter against the Springboks a week ago. They’re joined by the aforementioned new caps, Sebastian and Richardson. Little Horne (George) and Kinghorn (Blair) retain their bench slots but unlike 2 years ago in Yokohama they aren’t joined by Big Horne (Pete)!

The Team:

15. Stuart Hogg (c)*
14. Darcy Graham*
13. Chris Harris*
12. Sam Johnson*
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Finn Russell*
9. Ali Price

1. Jamie Bhatti
2. George Turner
3. Zander Fagerson**
4. Scott Cummings**
5. Grant Gilchrist*
6. Jamie Ritchie*
7. Hamish Watson
8. Josh Bayliss

16. Stuart McInally**
17. Pierre Schoeman
18. Javan Sebastian
19. Sam Skinner
20. Dylan Richardson
21. Matt Fagerson
22. George Horne**
23. Blair Kinghorn**

* Denotes player who started for Scotland against Japan in the 2019 RWC.
** Denotes player who was a replacement for Scotland against Japan in the 2019 RWC.


15. Ryohei Yamanaka**
14. Kotaro Matsushima*
13. Shogo Nakano
12. Ryoto Nakamura*
11. Siosaia Fifita
10. Rikiya Matsuda**
9. Yutaka Nagare*

1. Craig Millar
2. Atsushi Sakate**
3. Asaeli Ai Valu**
4. Jack Cornelsen
5. James Moore*
6. Michael Leitch*
7. Pieter Labuschagne (c)*
8. Kazuki Himeno*

16. Kosuke Horikoshi
17. Keita Inagaki*
18. Shinnosuke Kakinaga
19. Ben Gunter
20. Tevita Tatafu
21. Naoto Saito
22. Yu Tamura*
23. Dylan Riley

* Denotes player who started for Japan against Scotland in the 2019 RWC.
** Denotes player who was a replacement for Japan against Scotland in the 2019 RWC.

36 Responses

  1. Don’t understand that rationale in at least giving Horne a start if not Hastings also. Also am stumped by the 6-2 split and Kinghorn on the bench – what has Steyn done wrong?

    I like the fact that we are blooding new replacements, but also why not Ashman in the 23?

    1. Agree. Russell and Price are a known quantity.Surely we needed to give Horne and Hastings a run out in case of injury in the 6N ? Bizarre how Kinghorn is suddenly the favoured son,.Very unfair on the lack of opportunities for Sten and Tuipolotu and complete shunning of Huw Jones. Not the match for a 6:2 split!

      1. Looks like they have gone for pace in the forwards to start and more power from the bench. Think they looked at how Ireland demolished Japan.
        I’m surprised Hastings not in the 23. Kinghorm seems to have jumped over him.
        Looking forward to seeing what Bayliss can do at 8… I like M Fagerson .. but just never looks a stick on 8.
        I really don’t know what Z Fagerson has done to deserve starting every autumn match.
        Why not Steyn and Ashman on bench.
        Overall not a crazy selection.. but with a couple of head scratchers here and there.

  2. No doubt there will be a lot of talk about how we need to pick a side to build “depth” for the World Cup, depth isn’t really what we will need at the World Cup, we will need as strong a 15 as possible to try and win two massive games, getting our strongest side as much game time as possible makes total sense IMO even if looking at things for the long term of the World Cup or the upcoming 6 Nations.

    In terms of “depth” for the short term, a lot of depth is found when others are injured.

    I would always much prefer we treat Internationals game as must win and pick as strong a side as we can, which is what we look to have done here, sense IMO.

    Kinghorn being seen as a player capable of covering FB, wing and seemingly now 10 means he will never be far away from squads.

    1. Agreed Mish. There is no such thing as a “friendly” and we need to have our 1st XV playing together as much as possible.
      This is (IMHO) our first choice backline. Steyn, Hastings, McLean, Jones and others will need to up their game or wait for injuries to get a chance. It will come though.
      Obviously things aren’t as clear cut in the forwards, with only Ritchie, Watson and Cummings holding their respective shirts. The two Fagersons as well, maybe. Zander should be under pressure but isn’t (yet) and Matt is probably knackered!
      Pick your first XV every time from now on, if at all possible and if you’re not changing tactics or game plan.

      1. The issue is that Horne simply isn’t getting the game time he needs to provide a viable option to Price off the bench.

        This was obvious last week, and TBH having Horne starting with Price coming in would still give you what you say.

      2. The game time Horne gets to convince he is a viable starting option in serious games at International level is at club level, and he doesn’t often do that, he often looks every inch the backup 9 and rarely looks a must play 9.

    2. The RWC is just shy of 2 years away…alot can happen between now and then …injuries ..loss of form etc. We need a squad that can play at the highest level…in addition to knowing what our best 15 is and ensuring they have played together enough that they are ready for Ire and SA.
      Kinghorn is now being groomed as a 10 for a solid reason..

    1. So why was Vellacott not brought in to the squad? Was this a Toonie get back at him for wanting English cap??? Just a thought

      1. Nothing to do with caps. The English Premiership get extra money for England Qualified players – if he gets a single cap for Scotland he’s no longer an EQP. So then it would be unlikely he’ll get another contract for a Premiership side.
        He’s made that quite clear. Maybe if Edinburgh gave him a long term contract and/or Toonie made him believe he’s number one above Price, Horne, Dobie and anyone else. Unlikely.

    1. Japan not as strong as they were in 2019. We’re stronger than we were in 2019. So we should win this, and probably by a decent margin.

      In the build towards 6N 2022, we almost needed (though never wanted) a gubbing up front from the Saffers to underline how much we need to improve up front to get results away to Wales and Ireland. Let alone England and France at home.

      More of a hill to climb than a mountain. Took the England pack at Twickenham this year and matched the France pack in Paris. We’re not far off it up front, and the manner of the defeat to the Saffers should surely increase the motivation to step up the forward effort.

  3. I appreciate that injuries came into play but my immediate reaction to seeing the starting XV was “I’d have had far more confidence if this lot had started against SA!”.

    I’m a little sorry for McLean from a man-management point of view. He’s young and will likely be smarting from the SA game and this would have given him an opportunity to get back on the horse. Other than that, the only thing that stands out for me is Kinghorn on the bench over Hastings. I think Hastings is a better 10, 12 & 15 than Kinghorn so he seems to have been a little hard done by when both Harris and Hogg can slot in at wing if that’s what’s needed.

    The boys on the Blood & Mud podcast have us to win by 30-40 points and, honestly, less than 30 would be disappointing when we now have something to prove.

    1. I think that to back up the media statements made post SA match we need to not only win ….but by a substantial margin similar to Irelands.
      … mind you it’s also in the back of my mind it’s pretty Scottish to be on the receiving end of an embarrassing result in this type of hyped rematch.
      If we are aspiring to be elite .. these matches need to be won and won well.

  4. I don’t believe that Kinghorn is seriously considered our backup 10 – maybe they are thinking get the game won then bring him on for some game time at 10 at this level, but Hastings is way beyond him as a 10 and Thomson will be pushing him soon as well.
    Steyn is unlucky not to get another run out and would have liked to see Horne start as well
    It’s a strong starting xv and it needs to be a co for table win to maintain momentum.

    1. There is some continuity in this side , I was more surprised at last weeks selection than this one. Another prop to cap, a welsh one at that. Somehow I doubt Wayne Pivac will be smarting at that. Actually , twisted as I am , I really don’t mind if we play a side of Arbroath smokie eating Martians as long as we teach Japan a long over due lesson. I hope it is a right guid skelping.

    2. I think he is definitely being viewed as a back up 10.
      A player who can come off the bench and play 10, wings & 15 allows for more forwards and flexibility to fill the bench…and lets face it…the forward battle is the kicker v SA or Ire.

    3. and really?…Hastings has barely played. Why would you not play him in this series if he was the stick on backup? Every other nation has in this autumn series.

      1. Hastings is to the manor born at Gloucester. Honestly, I think these guys should just stick with the clubs than take the autumn off with Toony.

  5. I’m happy with the team.
    Taking a look at Bayliss is worthwhile as Fagerson has still not made no. 8 his own. Cummings starting makes a huge difference and the bench is suddenly much stronger with Skinner, Schoeman and McInally weighing in the last quarter. Interested to see how Richardson goes, seen nothing of him. Any thoughts?
    As to Kinghorn….there to cover back three I suspect, Finn will most likely play 80, unless we are safely ahead with 10 to go and he wants another look at BK at FH…don’t know why, when Hastings is considerably stronger there, and does a job at FB if needed.
    I’ll be at the game, so hoping for some entertainment and a comfortable win, we’ll see. Last time I saw Japan live was the 1991 WC…changed days!!

    1. Richardson is highly regarded in SA…played for the SA u20.. real power, pace great tackler and breaks tackles. Up there with DVDM as a steal ..I reckon.
      Watson will be approx 32 at the RWC… we need another high quality 7…Richardson will be it I reckon…plus he can play either side.

      1. With Both Richardson and Darge we will be well stacked going forward when Watson retires (hopefully a long time yet!)

      2. If the new rules pass then Jack Dempsey would be a nice option, Magnus Bradbury is a very powerful carrier, think Matt Fagerson is doing a good job however.

      3. Neil – the new rules require a 75% vote I think so it’s advocates will face an uphill struggle convincing the 6N teams it’s in their interests, who all have multiple votes.

        What shape it is in if it is voted through is also up for grabs. The advocates for changing eligibility rules have proposed players changing from T1 to T2 nations only. Presumably home unions would be more likely to support a rule without this condition, but then we could have the grim prospect of players proving themselves for Fiji or Samoa and being poached by Tier 2 sides if they were born there.

        Personally I think the idea is misconceived and I think it is unlikely to be approved.

  6. Can we please stop with the Kinghorn experiment, he was once a really great prospect and he’s not lived up to his potential. On a very basic point he doesn’t have a good rugby brain and butchers overlaps time and time again. On the whole I’m not impressed by this team selection, it’s a poor Japan team not the all blacks give youth a chance, we know what price et al can di

    1. Its a mistake to say its a poor Japan team… they have a fair number of players that beat us at the RWC…in addition they haven’t played much together because of the travel restrictions .we are now playing then after they have spent some time together …very much doubt it’ll be an easy match.

    2. People pay to watch Scotland you know, and get charged a fortune for doing so.

      The prices for the Tonga game, and standard of side we played reflected the side who should be picked for the game,

      Asking people to spend £35.00 to watch youths play would be ripping the piss, the expectation that will happen is removed from the reality of what International Rugby is really.

      If you wish to see youth play there is a Under 20 6 Nations.

      These games, the 3 were always going to be selections to reflect International Rugby.

  7. I think we might be in for a shock if we expect to beat Japan by 30 points. They are just 3 places beneath us in the rankings, just below Wales, despite their losses on this tour. Ireland are seriously good at the moment and for most of the Japanese players it was their first game of the season so I wouldnt read too much in to the result.

    My expectation is that we should win comfortably especially at home but I’ve seen too many banana skins in my life as a Scotland supporter. They were way better than us last time we played them but we have improved especially our defence since then. Need to watch our discipline (no cards), play to our abilities and not take them for granted and then we should have too much for them.

  8. The lineout struggled last week against SA.
    I think Tooney anticipated this and the one starting selection oddity that I liked was Haining (6ft 4) over Mish (6ft 1).
    I am guessing the idea was to give us a third lineout option.
    For me it worked fairly well in the first half and the lineout got worse as the game well on. There could be all sorts of reasons for this but did the loss of a third option contribute?

    How important is this third lineout option going to be in the future? How much does it matter when selecting for the overall balance of the backrow?

    So I looked up the heights of our backrow options from the SRU site just out of curiosity
    MBradbury 6,4
    Mish 6,1
    MFagerson 6,1
    BThomson 6,6
    SSkinner 6,5
    NHaining 6,4
    JRitchie 6,4
    JBayliss 6,4
    LCrosbie 6,5

    The point made in other comments that “we have who we have” and we need to work with them is absolutely spot on. On the other hand this seems like an aspect of getting a backrow balance that I hadn’t quite connected with before. But maybe others have?

    1. Isn’t J.Ritchie the go to jumper in the back row. Not sure we need a fourth jumper if he’s playing?

      Really interested to see how Baylis and Richardson go. We might be building some options at 7 if Richardson is the real deal and Darge comes back in to contention. We might need those options for the 6 nations if Watson needs an operation to fix his body.

  9. There is a lot of talk about Vellacott being absent from the squad and George Horne not getting game time but i feel there is another guy missing out. Sam Hildago Clyne has (in my opinion) been playing really well for Exeter. His form from last season has continued. he doesn’t get the full 80 but is brought on to close matches out or change things up and has done so convincingly.

    1. Has he, I know he has made a few bench appearances but he’s been largely missing from the match day squads I’ve read. I may be mistaken but I thought he had only made maybe 3/4 cameos. As for George Horne I feel he is at risk of going the same way as Bradbury and until very recently kinghorn

    2. The issue we have is that we have plenty of 9 who are bench warmers, but the only two Scottish 9s who are starting consistently are Price and Vellacot

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