Scotland have made two changes as they look to turn their tournament around against the Wallaroos after the tight-as-can-be loss to Wales.
Neither of the changes are huge surprises, as Rachel McLachlan and Emma Orr shake off minor knocks to return to the starting XV. This means that Scotland have the same starting backs from the USA game, and this might be our strongest backline – certainly a more physical one. Megan Gaffney’s two tries may not have been enough to make up for missing the most tackles against Wales and having the worst tackle completion rate in the team.
Australia have fast and powerful backs and so moving Hannah Smith out to the wing to accommodate Orr at outside centre seems a sensible move. Rachel McLachlan is a more out-and-out openside flanker to Louise McMillan, and she’ll be crucial in helping Scotland out at the breakdown.
The bench is a somewhat unusual 4-4 split (the loss of Eilidh Sinclair from the squad hits hard). It’s unclear if Louise McMillan has picked up a knock, as her ability to cover lock and back row might have made her another useful bench option.
Otherwise, coach Bryan Easson will be relying on the versatility of his forwards to cover any injuries. In the backs, Sarah Law returns to the bench – most likely to cover stand-off, although she can play at scrum half too – and if the game is tight, I would fully expect to see her on the pitch for her calmness, game-management and goal-kicking. Scotland don’t always make much use of their bench, but it could be a lot to ask nearly all the team to play another 80 minutes within six days of a very physical, and emotionally draining, match.
Australia, like Scotland, have lost their last seven matches, and having not played at all in 2020 or 2021, they looked in poor form earlier this year. But after a run of matches against high-quality opponents in the past few months, they look like they are starting to gel.
Watching back their recent matches against the Black Ferns, the back row really stood out and the Wallaroos have picked their strongest back row for their game against Scotland. Lining up alongside skipper Shannon Parry, Emily Chancellor is an absolute turn-over queen, winning around five jackal turnover penalties in just one of the games.
She is able to play blind side or open side, has an all-round back rower’s game, and Scotland will have to be very quick to release the ball if she’s sniffing an opportunity at the breakdown. Grace Hamilton is exactly what you want from a number 8 – hard carrying, always making metres, and hard tackling too. If the Australia scrum falters, she is still able to get the ball out the back and make a lot of metres. Her battle with Jade Konkel-Roberts will be something to really savour.
Another Wallaroo I will be watching out for is Liz Patu, a fantastic ball-carrying prop who is likely to be giving more than a few opposing tacklers some nightmares. And in the backs, the play-maker Arabella Mackenzie will be critical to Australia’s success. She can play 15, but is in her more usual 10 jersey, and as well as high quality distribution and good kicking, she is a real running threat. And Rhona Lloyd and co will have to be at their defensive best to combat young wing sensation Bienne Terita. Terita’s international XVs career comprises two tests against the Black Ferns, scoring two tries in each, which is one way to burst on to the international scene.
Australia seem to be most people’s strong favourites, but if Scotland can bring the discipline, physicality and set piece strength they showed last week, but do a better job at converting their chances, they can give themselves a real chance of winning the game.
Scotland: Chloe Rollie, Rhona Lloyd, Emma Orr, Lisa Thomson, Hannah Smith, Helen Nelson, Caity Mattinson; Molly Wright, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Emma Wassell, Sarah Bonar, Rachel Malcolm (capt), Rachel McLachlan, Jade Konkel-Roberts.
Replacements: Jodie Rettie, Leah Bartlett, Elliann Clarke, Lyndsay O’Donnell, Mairi McDonald, Sarah Law, Evie Wills, Shona Campbell.