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Scotland v Georgia: Summer Nations Series 2023, Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Ben White - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Ben White - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Three years ago these sides met as Test rugby in the northern hemisphere started to emerge from its Covid-related hiatus. On that evening in October 2020, Oli Kebble and Duhan van der Merwe made their international debuts (and, quelle surprise, the giant winger scored a try); Simon Berghan, Nick Haining and Ben Toolis were Test regulars; Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally had the hooker slots nailed down; and Ali Price was immovable from the 9 shirt. Oh, and Finn Russell was just returning to the team for the first time since the 2019 RWC…

A lot has changed since that autumn evening but it’s still possible to see how the foundations of the current side were being built 34 Tests ago. In all, 9 of the players who featured against Georgia last time round are in the lineup for this game – the same number of returnees as the visitors. Scott Cummings is the only man who will have played in every one of Scotland’s quartet of Tests against the Lelos in the last 4 years.

5 Scotland changes from last Test (v France)

  • 15 – Smith for Kinghorn
  • 9 – White for Price
  • 1 – Bhatti for Schoeman
  • 2 – Cherry for Turner
  • 4 – Skinner for Gray


BACK 3 – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Ollie Smith
Kyle Steyn
Duhan van der Merwe

15
14
11

Davit Niniashvili
Akaki Tabutsadze
Miriani Modebadze

47  Tries  45
99kg  Average weight  
88kg
27  Total caps  
73
0  RWC matches  2
27.0  Average age  24.3

2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland.

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Sean Maitland; 11. Blair Kinghorn

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? Mais, non.

Edinburgh duo Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn will join their club colleague Duhan van der Merwe in the back 3 when it comes to taking on the Springboks. Kyle Steyn’s late elevation to the starting lineup for this game gives the Glasgow skipper another chance to press his case for what should be a hotly contested number 23 shirt on the bench.

Since the 2019 World Cup, Scotland have only used 6 different starting wingers and 4 of those players will travel to France – Kinghorn, Graham, Steyn and van der Merwe. In the last year that has come down to just 2 out of 3 from that latter trio starting every game on the wing, with no Scot starting more Tests than Steyn in 2023 (8 – Huwipulotu also 8).

The Lelos will also feel this is also an area of strength for their side. Past matches have seen Scottish back 3 players get the ball in their hands much more than their Georgian counterparts though – the forwards will need to set the platform that allows the wide men to shine.


CENTRES – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Huw Jones
Sione Tuipulotu

13
12

Demur Tapladze
Merab Sharikadze

18  Tries  18
102kg  Average weight  
94kg
56  Total caps  
121
0  RWC matches  7
28.1  Average age  26.9

8th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 13. Huw Jones; 12. Sam Johnson.

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? Absolutely.

After missing out on the 2019 RWC, Huw Jones was there at the very beginning of the current World Cup cycle. That was shortlived though as Chris Harris / Sam Johnson became the preferred partnership in midfield. Jones was left with sporadic involvements until the yin to his yang arrived in the shape of Sione Tuipulotu – allied to the Scottish gameplan starting to open up again.

As both men head to their first RWC, their relationship with Finn Russell and the variation they can provide when linking and swapping with the stand off will be vital. They won’t want to give away too much ahead of the game in 2 weeks but there will need to be some testing of options against a very experienced Georgian duo who will be no mugs in defence.


HALF BACKS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Finn Russell
Ben White

10
9

Luka Matkava
Vasil Lobzhanidze

11  Tries  15
90kg  Average weight  
79kg
86  Total caps  
71
7  RWC matches  8
28.1  Average age  24.4

6th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 10. Adam Hastings; 9. Ali Price.

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? Indubitably.

Right back in February 2020, Finn Russell was unavailable while his old pal Ali Price was beginning a run of 30 consecutive selections – including 28 starts – following Greig Laidlaw’s retirement. Flash forward to this summer and Finn is back and better than ever, while at scrum half this has very much been Ben White’s year. The Toulon player has grabbed the starting slot, wearing the 9 shirt in 7 out of 9 Tests so far during 2023.

Russell will lead from the front but it won’t just be his array of tricks that will be needed to break down South Africa (although they will certainly come in handy!) they will need to be combined with flawless decision making and a top notch kicking game.

While Georgia are not the Springboks and a home friendly is not an RWC pool match, the half backs need to play Saturday’s game as if it is an all or nothing clash to build them into the mentality that will be required to have any chance of beating South Africa.


FRONT ROW – ADVANTAGE GEORGIA

Jamie Bhatti
Dave Cherry
WP Nel

1
2
3

Mikheil Nariashvili
Shalva Mamukashvili
Beka Gigashvili

341kg  Weight  339kg
7  Tries  19
96  Total caps  
204
7  RWC matches  18
33.3  Average age  32.6

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 1. Rory Sutherland; 2. Fraser Brown; 3. Zander Fagerson.

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? No.

While not first choice, this does, however, look very much like the group who will fill the front row bench slots and be deployed to counter the Springboks’ Bomb Squad – by whatever means necessary. The Scots’ trio have plenty of experience of being substitutes (38 combined replacement appearances in this RWC cycle – 86% of all their caps during this period) and that knowledge of how best to contribute in that role will be essential against a South African side whose levels don’t drop no matter who is on the pitch.

Saturday will provide an excellent test for the home side’s front row. Preparing against the Georgians’ veteran triumvirate will be a serious workout as Jamie Bhatti makes his first Test start since November 2021 (and just the 4th of his career); and WP Nel makes his 3rd start for Scotland in 2023 – already more than he made in the other 3 years of this RWC cycle.


SECOND ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Sam Skinner
Grant Gilchrist

4
5

Lado Chachanidze
Konstantin Mikautadze

231kg  Weight  244kg
1  Tries  4
91  Total caps  
83
6  RWC matches  8
30.8  Average age  28.0

10th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 4. Scott Cummings; 5. Jonny Gray.

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? Unlikely.

Grant Gilchrist’s regular partner in the second row, Richie Gray, will slot back in to provide some of the sheer size needed to counter the Springboks. The elder Gray will also need to run a tight ship at the lineout to secure the kind of possessions that Finn Russell can make mischief with and avoid costly losses of possession.

Between them, Richie and younger brother, Jonny Gray, have ensured family representation at 4 consecutive World Cups. They only managed one tournament together though, back in 2015. Long-term injury put paid to Jonny’s chances of travelling to France. The team will miss him, with his usual substantial workload having to be spread out across the pack.


BACK ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Jamie Ritchie (c)
Rory Darge
Jack Dempsey

6
7
8

Luka Ivanishvili
Mikheil Gachechiladze

Tornike Jalaghonia

320kg  Weight  310kg
3  Tries  10
63  Total caps  
47
2  RWC matches  0
26.6  Average age  26.4

2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland

Starters for game 1 of this RWC cycle (away to Ireland) – 6. Jamie Ritchie; 7. Hamish Watson; 8. Nick Haining.

Is this the first choice selection for the pool fixture versus South Africa in 2 weeks time? Very much so.

Following on from the Ireland game at the start of the World Cup cycle, the back row quickly developed with Matt Fagerson slotting in at number 8 for a selection that became Gregor Townsend’s go to.

While it might have been unthinkable for much of the last 6 of 7 years for a Scotland team to go into a game without Hamish Watson at openside, Rory Darge’s form will surely have been too much to ignore, while the dark blue’s Mr Consistent in the shape of the younger Fagerson is likely to edged out by the slightly more explosive Jack Dempsey at number 8.

Georgia’s back row is missing their some of their top options but they’re still not going to provide an easy ride at the breakdown. That’s good news for Gregor Townsend’s men as they have to come flying out the blocks and put in a huge performance in 2 weeks time in Marseille.

This may only be a warm-up / Summer Nations Series game but with Scotland now in the cycle of a game every fortnight the intensity needs to be up near World Cup levels and much of that will be lead by the performance of the back row.


REPLACEMENT FORWARDS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Ewan Ashman
Rory Sutherland
Javan Sebastian
Scott Cummings
Matt Fagerson

16
17
18

19
20

Tengiz Zamtaradze
Guram Gogichashvili
Guram Papidze

Lasha Jaiani
Sandro Mamamtavrishvili

114kg  Average weight  110kg
7  Tries  4
101  Total caps  
71
4  RWC matches  4
27.0  Average age  25.4

With the first choice front row trio of Pierre Schoeman, George Turner and Zander Fagerson resting (one of them on a break of a slightly more compulsory nature than the others…) a final opportunity knocks for this weekend’s replacements. As it stands the plan is likely to be that these 3 players won’t be needed again until the fixture against Romania but plans always need to be adaptable and all 3 will still be pushing hard to impress and break into the matchday 23 for the opening RWC fixture.

While Scott Cummings and Matt Fagerson will undoubtedly have had designs on starting spots, they will both have big contributions to make as the likely second row and back row cover against the Springboks. The expectation is that they will be joined by Sam Skinner as a hybrid replacement who can slot in at either lock or flanker depending on what Scotland need in the face of South African physicality.


REPLACEMENT BACKS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

George Horne
Ben Healy
Chris Harris

21
22
23

Gela Aprasidze
Tedo Abzhandadze
Giorgi Kveseladze

11  Tries  11
94kg  Average weight  
85kg
67  Total caps  
132
7  RWC matches  10
28.2  Average age  25.2

This is an important outing for Ben Healy who might expect to get on relatively early in proceedings. A 6 forwards, 2 backs split on the bench for the pool opener will almost certainly see the former Munster player miss out in 2 weeks time – with Blair Kinghorn covering Finn Russell – but there’s every chance that Healy will be scheduled to have the 10 shirt and run the show against Romania at the end of next month. He may be working in tandem with George Horne for that fixture and Saturday night against Georgia will represent this duo’s first chance to work together as half backs in a game environment.

Where a 6/2 bench split is involved, the number 23 slot has to provide plenty of flexibility and an ability to cover across the centres and back 3. Chris Harris has experience on the wing – although he hasn’t started there since 2018 and at nearly 33 years old might not have the pace for a long stint out wide. Ollie Smith filled this role on the last 6/2 bench against France at Murrayfield. While he has plenty of experience at club/Super 6 and age grade levels playing centre, he has yet to start there for Glasgow or Scotland. Kyle Steyn is equally comfortable in the midfield or on the wing for the Warriors. While he has yet to play centre at Test level, given his form and contributions so far this year, he might well be in pole position for the final spot in the matchday squad against South Africa.


Miscellany

Finn Russell will be just the 8th player (out of 1,196 capped by the dark blues) to make 70 starts for the Scotland Men’s team, following in the footsteps of Gregor Townsend, Gordon Bulloch, Scott Murray, Chris Paterson, Sean Lamont, Ross Ford and Stuart Hogg.

– The precautionary withdrawal of Darcy Graham from this game has surely cost him an almost certain try. The wee winger is on a run of 4 consecutive matches (Scotland and Edinburgh) with a try scored; 4 consecutive Tests with a try scored; and has crossed in each of his 3 previous outings against Georgia.

– The opposition number 14 has a similar nose for a try. Akaki Tabusadze’s current streak is 5 games in a row with at least one 5-pointer and he has notched 11 tries in total in his last 8 appearances for Georgia.

Kyle Steyn is the only member of the starting XV to have also played 7s for Scotland. That’s the first time in the 70 matches of the Townsend era that just a single 7s graduate has been in the lineup.

– Scotland’s trio of wingers, Darcy Graham, Kyle Steyn and Duhan van der Merwe have scored a combined 17 tries in the dark blues’ last 11 Tests:

  • Fiji (H) – van der Merwe
  • New Zealand (H) – Graham
  • Argentina (H) – Graham (3), van der Merwe
  • England (A) – van der Merwe (2)
  • Wales (H) – Steyn (2)
  • France (A) – none
  • Ireland (H) – none
  • Italy (H) – van der Merwe
  • Italy (H) – Graham (2)
  • France (H) – Graham
  • France (A) – Steyn (2), van der Merwe


If you missed Part 1 – previous meetings, scouting report and more – check it out here.

38 Responses

  1. Was disappointing to hear the podcasters commenting on the looks and appearances of the Scotland Mens team this week. If this was the women’s team you guys made similar comments on you would no longer have a podcast.

    Don’t objectify men please, they have feelings and insecurities also. A sad day for equality, We don’t need to be talking about how sexy or unattractive our players are, especially not on what was supposed to be the child-friendly section.

    On a different note, saw Rory Darge at the Rueben Kaye show in the fringe festival recently, very humble guy.

  2. I think our boys are a fine looking bunch of lads. I mean if they make the movie of Scotland’s world cup campaign then they’ll need to bring back Paul Newman’s ‘Cool hand Luke to.play Duhan Van Der Merwe.

  3. Just that inevitability.

    Apart from the obvious, how good is Dempsey. How good is Jones. White is going to be starting 9.

    Can see why Healey is going. Definitely something different.

    Functioning lineout, without Gray on the pitch.

    One eye on South Africa throughout…

    Oh – England, hahaha.

  4. I’ll put the first half down to Georgia being fired up, along with some Pre-WC injury nerves, physicality was not there, glad we turned that around 2nd half.

    Not too much to reflect on, good we did not concede a try. Subs looked good, in particular Ben Healy. Good to shake of some rust and not have any injuries.

    Looking to SA it’s all going to come down to who can be the most aggressive and dominant up front, as the All Blacked showed yesterday what happens when you don’t turn up. We can’t rely on one-off wonder tries from Russell, Van Der Merwe and Graham, just wont happen against that quality of opposition without consistent front foot ball.

  5. Thought the replacement front row looked much better than the starting.
    Thats definitely our best back row combination ..Ritchie Darge Dempsey.

    Selecting the replacements will be the toughest call.

    Ireland didn’t look too clever v Samoa either.

    Will have to execute the best 80 min rugby a Scotland side has played to win against this SA side.

    1. The only area Georgia had an advantage in the head to heads Kevin penned was the front row. So hardly surprising that we looked average and the replacements up against a tired Georgia side looked better. Is it ? They do not come much tougher or experienced than the Georgian front 3. Job done , experience gained, bring them on.

  6. Was it just me or in the short time he was on the pitch did Harris butcher at least 4 attacks by not passing the ball?

    Nothing there to worry SA or Ireland (despite their scare from Samoa).

    Still waiting for that 80 min performance…

  7. It’s a game I knew we’d win. Like the first test against France. In my years of watching it’s a new experience. I feel we are a special team. If it doesn’t happen I’ll still be proud.

    1. Exactly… So hopeful that this team, that’s so great for portions of every game they play, can flip the switch and do it for enough of the game to win every time. How many consecutive points did we get against the All Blacks last time we lost to them? This team has a chance of winning the World Cup. A very slim chance, but much of that is just down to the way the draw was made. Even if we don’t ever win a WC or a 6 Nations, I’ll always be grateful to this team (and to Townsend) for the way they approach the game. Every single game entertains. England has one entertaining game a year, and that’s just the one that Finn Russell appears in.

  8. Georgia a decent side, strong basics and this was a excellent send off for Scotland.
    Slow start but as we got our eye in and Georgia felt the effects of their efforts we tried out our plays.
    Won the game, Line out / scrum functioned well, no YC / RC / injuries and Z.Fagerson, P.Schoeman, R.Gray, C.Redpath, D.Graham L.Crosbie to return.
    Job done

    1. I agree John, Georgia are good players, as a team , not as well connected as we are , WR rank them 11th. The the first half was dire but Scotland were moving the ball side to side keeping them moving, tiring them out. I think that was the game plan. We seem to be winning the second half of most games we play , not a bad thing for confidence. It may be down to fitness !

  9. I think this has been an excellent build up and time for credits. Gregor Townsend is smiling and he should be, he has approached this RWC in a very different way, we can all see that. We have strength and depth , in most positions. Look at the quality of players that did not make it to the squad, someone should thank them for their contribution.

    We have an outstanding back line , each player individually talented however for me this biggest difference is we are working as a team, all 23. I was in the stadium early and just watched how they warmed up , a very different look to the warm up’s. Full squad out helping the warm up, really organized routines. I am going to give that to Pete Horne, but he was not alone on the pitch.

    Something has clicked and at the right time. Really entertaining rugby , I never felt like we were out if it , even in St Etienne. We have finally got something special.

  10. First half so inert. Was our failure to break the gain line and apply some imagination via at least one Russell chip and chase a Toony prep to harden muscles before the Boks? And then yet another second half storm. Weird how often this is happening, albeit adds excitement to the relief.

    Despite the idiocy of the World Rugby pools draw, much to look forward to. Btw, can anyone explain how the utter crapola that is Borthwick’s England (the Liz Truss of rugby) are standing at 11/1 to win the whole thing and we’re 40/1?

  11. England’s betting odds are probably due to, as you rightly say, to the idiocy of the draw. However far they progress through the WRC, it will certainly not be a true reflection of their rugby competence. I have believed for some time that England’s demise as a rugby nation, goes back for years (remember Eddie Butler’s, “Boring England”. A style which may have won games, but was neither entertaining nor sporting). They have not evolved much since those days and are further plagued by a hubris which impedes honest reflection. (Again remember that many England players refused to wear their runner-up medals after the last WC).

    1. You’re spot on, CSC. And a hubris that translates more widely off the park into the assumptions of English exceptionalism that have caused so damage in these islands over the past 13 years. I know we shouldn’t veer here into the murk of the political but, as the old song said, the sports bone’s connected to the culture bone. Which makes France the greatest outfit on earth! (I so hope their style can ruin the Boks next month.)

  12. I would be tempted to make 3 changes to the backs for the SA game. 2 defensive ones – Smith and Steyn in place of Kinghorn and VdM. And one based purely on performance- bring in George Horne for Ben White, who has not impressed me as much as he has many commentators.

    1. It is correct that , Duhan was selected for all three Lions tests against the SA Bomb squad. Surely the suggestion of dropping him is not a serious comment.

  13. I appreciate where you are coming from but I don’t think we’ll beat SA if we purely concentrate on defensive options (why not bring in Harris as well?) we need Kinghorn and VDM for their attacking prowess-we need to score points.
    Having said that I do think SA will play on VDM’s suspect ability under the high or retreating ball (though possibly not as much with Pollard).

    1. I don’t think there is much to be gained defensively by bringing Harris in and a significant drop off in attacking threat. I am worried about VdM and Kinghorn under the high ball and Smith and Steyn are not such a drop off in terms of attacking threat. But agree that we have to take every opportunity to score and the SA tactics do seem to have changed, but they will target weaknesses.

      1. Oh dear, our back 3 have been even more suspect under the high ball for years , DVdM was a testvstarter forvthe Lions as I recall, please correct me if I am wrong.So why do you think he is suspect! He has experience of this boks side to learn from. I really do not see the point in removing one of our finest assets in DVdM or Kinghorn who has height and fits in with the preferred back line. This is the best team we have fielded in 20 plus years .

  14. Definately Have to play Kinghorn and VDM. The game will be won / lost up front, if we get parity (at least) in the forwards (giving Finn some front foot ball) then we will have the chance to get VDM Jones Graham Kinghorn on the ball.

  15. The way the boks defend with their wingers (flying up fast and inwards) means we absolutely need to have Graham/VDM/Kinghorn in the back 3 as out wide is where they leave space.

    Expect we’ll see quite a few of these kick-passes Russell loves.

    Was positive to see Bhatti and Nel get the better of Georgia in the scrum in the first half. SA bombsquad is a different prospect but hopefully will be going in with belief and confidence.

  16. Hmm, I’m concerned! As if SA form wasn’t reason enough! That first half was exactly the same as first half vs Ireland in 2019. How with all the learnings can we have repeated that? And post match insisting there was value in it! You can’t avoid the physical confrontation, we have a good pack, we have good carriers but we’re still too slow to the breakdown. As far as I can see SA, France and Ireland clear out BEFORE the tackle is completed. It’s not being sanctioned. Scotland need to get on this page or we won’t build phases.

  17. Does anyone know what kind of sweets P Horne handed to Russell when he came off? Looked like Haribos but they don’t come in a pink packet. Maybe some sort of French equivalent? Such a Finn moment – I loved it!

  18. What are everyones final teams for South Africa?

    Kinghorn – Graham – Jones – Tuipolotu – Van Der Merwe – Russell – White – Dempsey – Darge – Ritchie – Skinner – Gray – Nel – Turner – Schoeman

    Steyn – Horne – Fagerson – Cummings – Gilchrist – Fagerson – Bhatti – Ashman

  19. Your “controversial selections are, of course, Nel and Skinner starting instead of Fagerson and Gilchrist. Whilst I wouldn’t disagree I’d expect Townsend to stick with the latter pair.
    Given Nel’s scrummaging though in recent weeks-and Fagerson’s lack of action perhaps 50 mins with Nel could just be a masterstoke (and almost certainly lead to less penalties given away).
    I did wonder after the Georgia match if the fact Gilchrist played the full 80 rather than Skinner if it meant Townsend could be opting for Skinner next weekend.
    So you just might be spot on!

    1. Its partly that i don’t see Cummings/Skinner bench combo being reliable off the bench at line-outs, especially against SA, too small.

      Nel has shown he can do it at the top level still, and Fagerson is a pretty handy impact option, just going to be a bit too rusty to start for me.

      1. Minded to agree Neil. The lineout has been a mess of late without one of Gray or Gilchrist on the pitch.

        I’d put Cherry on the bench and swap Skinner and Cummings. Keeps a nice balance of Glasgow lineout to start and Edinburgh to finish.

  20. Finally got round to watching the rest of the Georgia game. First half was a bit odd, I don’t think we necessarily played badly but we just failed to create very much, credit to Georgia they defended well and paid the price for it in the second half. Possibly a bit of pre-world cup “I really don’t want to get injured so I’ll just hold back a bit” which is understandable but there was a lack of intensity, all a bit half hearted. Very much came to life in the second half though so I suspect they were “re-aligned” at half time. Positives, I thought both front rows did very well in the scrum, the Georgians are no mugs in that department so to have the upper hand is great. Tuipolotu had a good game as did Russell. The lineout had a good showing although I think Georgia’s fell to pieces towards the end which put a gloss on it to a certain extent. Their lineout malfunctioning in the second half is really what gave us the upper hand, it was almost like watching us at times and must have been very frustrating for their coaches.

    I don’t think we have yet put together a full 80min performance which is unfortunate as we need two of them. You just can’t give the boks or Ireland a foot in the game for 40mins, they will put a lot more than 6 points on us. We have shown to be fit, well conditioned and capable of upping the tempo in the second half which is good but we need to be in games with 20 to go and not trying to climb a mountain.

    Will be interesting to see what the boks do, the amount of folk getting their knickers in a twist about their 7-1 split is very amusing, “It’s anti rugby” they shout! It’s hilariously ironic coming from the type of person who things the “games gone soft” and that backs are all…. It plays massively to their strengths so why shouldn’t they do it but its also a massive risk to injury. You can have a scrum half or a fly half on the bench but unless you have Freddie Michalak or Greig Laidlaw you won’t have both.

    1. I think the thing that struck me watching this live was the inevitability. The same inevitability as in the second France game and multiple others of late. You just know this team is going to come back. I don’t think it’s my expectation, I think it’s clear watching the team that the players know it just needs to click and they’ll score tries, multiple tries.

      It’s a bit like the inevitability of waiting for a win over SA or NZ from this team. It’s not happened yet but we know one is coming… Why? Because they’re just plain good enough to win and know it.

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