Andy Robinson and his trimmed Scotland squad left Edinburgh last week and set off on the long journey to Australasia knowing full well that they are in desperate times having not won a match since September.
Scotland will face a largely second-string Australia XV in Newcastle, New South Wales on Tuesday morning before travelling to Lautoka to face Fiji on 16 June and then on to Apia to face Samoa the following Saturday.
More formidable and fierce opponents are very much harder to come by and the tourists simply need to record at least one victory over the next three weeks before serious questions are asked of Robinson and his coaching methods.
With former attack coach Gregor Townsend, who many blame for the uninspiring performances taking up his new post as Glasgow Warriors head coach this week, former Australia and Wales coach Scott Johnson will link up with Robinson for the first time.
New defensive coach Matt Taylor may also link up with the touring squad after he has fulfilled his Super XV commitments with Queensland Reds.
The new coaching team will be seeking to identify a weakness in the probable Wallabies line up which could include several debutants due to their three-match series against Wales beginning the following Saturda.
The set piece is an area they can potentially dominate with a fully-fit and committed Euan Murray likely to be given a start alongside Ross Ford and John Welsh in the front row.
Former captain Al Kellock is also likely to be restored alongside Richie Gray in the second row with all three back row positions up for grabs due to a minor hand injury to flanker John Barclay resulting in a call-up for Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally on Thursday.
In the backs, Robinson and Johnson may prefer to pair Mike Blair with Greig Laidlaw at half-back rather than the in-form Duncan Weir who had a strong finish to the season at stand off for Glasgow Warriors.
The coaches also face an intriguing dilemma in choosing their preferred centre pairing as Max Evans is unlikely to be released from his French club Castres in time for Tuesday’s test and so this could result in a first start for Edinburgh’s Matt Scott alongside the experienced but erratic Nick De Luca.
Worcester’s Alex Grove has now returned to the squad and Glasgow’s rising star Alex Dunbar was also called up to the senior squad today and will challenge for a place.
With Tim Visser qualifying for Scotland after the Australia test, Robinson will call upon Sean Lamont and Joe Ansbro for the wing positions with Stuart Hogg likely to continue his stunning debut season at fullback although he has competition for the 15 shirt in Edinburgh’s Tom Brown.
Newcomers Rob Harley, Tom Ryder and Ryan Grant along with Brown are all likely to start at least one of the three tests which will take its toll on Robinson’s touring squad which is without the suspended forward Jim Hamilton, the injured Kelly Brown, Rory Lamont, Dave Denton and Lee Jones whilst prop Alan Jacobsen is rested.
Tuesday’s test against the Wallabies is intriguing for many reasons but mainly because the home side will be without many of their leading players due to key Super XV fixtures for the Brumbies, Warahtahs and Rebels this weekend and their upcoming three-test series against Wales beginning the following Saturday.
With this in mind, Australia Head coach Robbie Deans has named a bloated 39-man squad to cover all four tests and will name his starting XV for the Scotland test on Sunday.
Deans will be without the exciting Fullback Kurtley Beale who has a shoulder injury sustained in his Rebels side’s defeat to the Hurricanes last weekend, and also the influential second row James Horwill who has a hamstring injury also picked up on Super XV duty for the Reds.
Many pundits and observers, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere, will see the outcome of this match a forgone conclusion and a glance at the IRB World Rankings would add substance to that thinking, but the reality is that Scotland has a fantastic opportunity to record a first win over the Wallabies in Australia since 1984.
The Australia XV likely to take the field will have been in camp together for a mere two or three days and will likely include at least five debutants.
Also, the venue chosen to host this under-the-radar test is in somewhat of a Rugby backwater in New South Wales and so there is unlikely to be a great deal of native interest given the unusual scheduling just four days before the much more high-profile series against Grand Slam Champions Wales.
Taking these factors into consideration, the Scots have a realistic chance of causing an upset and claiming their first win since the scrappy Rugby World Cup victory over Georgia in September.
After Tuesday’s test the squad will then have 10 days before taking on Fiji and then Samoa the following Saturday which are guaranteed to be physical contests.
But with the prolific Tim Visser now within days of qualification, Scotland have a great opportunity to start climbing back up the IRB rankings before their daunting November Test series against New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga followed by the all-important 2015 Rugby World Cup draw in December
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