Scotland stand on the verge of completing a successful three-test tour of the Southern Hemisphere for the first time this century when they come up against Samoa in Apia on Saturday, another team ranked just above them in the IRB world rankings.
Andy Robinson has again decided to change a winning XV, perhaps mindful of the fact that he will not have a chance to see some of these players again until November’s Test series.
Flanker John Barclay who has impressed at number 8 recently, was allowed to leave the tour ahead of his wedding next weekend and so former club-mate Richie Vernon gets his first test start since the World cup.
Scrum-half Chris Cusiter also gets the nod ahead of his rival Mike Blair as the Samoans possess one of the most physical and explosive 9’s in the game in Khan Fotuali’i, who has impressed for the Ospreys since moving to the Pro 12 last year.
Blair has recently signed for French second division side Brive and so his international career may be drawing to a close as Robinson is unlikely to pick players not playing regularly in Europe’s top tier.
Sean Lamont also comes back into the starting XV with his superior size and physicality being preferred to Max Evans, although ironically Evans has come up against more of the likely Samoa XV this year playing for Castres than Lamont has in the Pro 12 for Scarlets.
Robinson and fellow selector Scott Johnson have, with the exception of the departing Barclay, stuck with the same pack that has performed so well over the past few weeks despite the depth of talent at their disposal especially in the back row.
Glasgow Warriors hero Rob Harley remains the only rookie forward in the touring squad that has not yet had a taste of the action but Robinson has finally included him on the bench to cover the back row along with fellow Warrior Tom Ryder who provides cover for the second row if Robinson feels that Al Kellock needs a rest.
Scotland’s forwards will face their most formidable challenge of the tour yet when they come up against Samoa’s fearsome pack on Saturday, many of them have Heineken cup experience and the likes of Toulouse prop Census Johnson is over 6 foot 3 and weighs 20 stones.
Scotland’s props however, have won many admirers on this tour with their dominant scrum and tiresome work at the breakdown.
They also forced a penalty try against an impressive Fiji scrum and the likes of Edinburgh’s Alan Jacobsen, who was rested for this tour, may find it increasingly difficult to force his way back into the starting XV ahead of November’s test series.
Having enjoyed a two-try debut, Tim Visser retains his place on the wing as expected and he will relish another opportunity to test himself on the International stage ahead of the summer break.
Greig Laidlaw continues to impress at stand off although Glasgow’s Duncan Weir is desperate to shoe what he can do in the playmaker role and probably deserved a start alongside club mate Cusiter at halfback.
Considering Scotland have almost a full team sat at home recovering after a long season including the likes of Dave Denton, Jim Hamilton and Rory Lamont, Robinson has done a tremendous job in recording two back-to-back test victories against tough opposition in the Southern Hemisphere, and if he can record just one more against the tough-tackling Samoans in Apia on Saturday then the decision to retain his services after the despair of last season will have been fully justified.
The SRU last night confirmed that talks were still underway with broadcasters about screening the match on Saturday however there is no agreement in place as yet.
Scotland XV to play Samoa on Saturday:
- Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
- Sean Lamont (Scarlets)
- Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors)
- Richie Vernon (Sale Sharks)
- Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Alisdair Strokosch (Gloucester RFC)
- Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
- Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors)
- Euan Murray (Newcastle Falcons)
- Ross Ford CAPTAIN (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors)
Subs: Scott Lawson (Gloucester RFC), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Tom Ryder, Rob Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Mike Blair (Edinburgh Rugby), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Castres)
You can follow Finlay on Twitter
- Sean Lamont and Chris Cusiter ‘confident’ after their Scotland call-up
- Scotland to host Tonga at Pittodrie after gaining spot in IRB top ten
- Andy Robinson insists there's work to do for Scotland despite Fiji win