After their remarkable win over Australia in torrential conditions last week, Andy Robinson’s Scotland squad have now set up camp in the far warmer outpost of Lautoka to acclimatise ahead of their test against Fiji on Saturday.
There are a number of walking wounded in the travelling party, not least the XV that started in Newcastle, including of course, Joe Ansbro who was accidentally head-butted by team mate Alistair Strokosch whilst celebrating the win and sustained a significant gash requiring over 40 stitches.
Glasgow Warriors Prop Moray Low and Castres winger Max Evans have also joined up with the travelling party in Fiji to bolster the numbers and in Low’s case, add some experience to the front row although his Warriors club-mate Ryan Grant has deservedly retained his loosehead jersey after a magnificent debut in last week’s victory.
Warriors recruit Sean Lamont is also struggling to recover from a rib injury and sat out most of yesterday’s training session meaning Dutch winger Tim Visser will make his long-awaited Scotland debut having finally completed his three-year residency qualification today.
Robinson has decided against any changes in the pack given their heroics last week, although with the next two opponents significantly more physical and in far warmer and humid conditions, he will almost definitely have to call on his bench as fatigue begins to set in.
Fiji narrowly lost 29-26 to Samoa at the weekend and will be looking to bounce back in their first home clash with Scotland in 12 years. However, due to their commitments in this month’s Pacific Cup which also includes Japan and Tonga, they may be forced into fielding a slightly less-experienced side against the Scots.
On that day in 1998, the under-strength Scotland XV which featured only two players who would go on to win the 5 Nations championship the following year, lost 51-26 and in order to avoid a repeat that occurrence, Robinson will have to ensure his troops are up for the confrontation and not play into skilful Fijian hands.
Visser’s debut was expected although it now looks likely that fellow rookies Rob Harley and Tom Ryder may have to wait until November’s test series before further pressing their claims for inclusion in the starting XV barring any further injuries.
Despite only one significant moment with ball in hand against Australia, Matt Scott and Nick De Luca continue their centre partnership and, along with Visser will have Max Evans and Stuart Hogg behind them in what is probably Scotland’s most exciting and attack-orientated backline in the last ten years.
Greig Laidlaw and Mike Blair continue their halfback partnership and the dryer conditions in Lautoka are guaranteed to bring out the best in this attacking duo.
Robinson has decided against naming his bench until later in the week, presumably in the hope that Sean Lamont will be fit to cover the back three positions, and the coach will also consider the likes of Tom Brown who debuted last week and Alex Grove who has not featured for Scotland in over two years.
Scotland head into this weekend’s match on the back of their first win since September and will be justifiably confident of securing another win against the depleted but dangerous Fijians.
A victory for Scotland would set up a potential clean sweep against Samoa next weekend who may also be resting several familiar names including former Glasgow Warrior David Lemi who has been in prolific form this month.
If Robinson’s men can get an early lead on Saturday and are careful not to turnover any ball in their own half then they are likely to overcome the challenge of Fiji and with Visser now officially a Scot, we can also hope to see an end to the try-scoring drought which now stretches back to Richie Gray’s touchdown in Dublin last March.
Scotland team to face Fiji on Saturday 16th June:
- Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
- Max Evans (Castres Olympique)
- Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Mike Blair (Edinburgh Rugby)
- John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
- Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Al Strokosch (Gloucester RFC)
- Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
- Al Kellock (Glasgow Warriors)
- Euan Murray (Newcastle Falcons)
- Ross Ford (c) (Edinburgh Rugby)
- Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors)
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