By Max Mathews
- Scotland make five changes
- Greig Laidlaw wants ref to watch high hits
- Pool A blown open by Ireland defeat to Japan
KOBE, JAPAN – After a limp performance in their 27-3 rout against Ireland, Scotland will be looking to bounce back against unbeaten Samoa
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Townsend unsure of style or best team
In response to their tame drubbing by Ireland – a loss by 24 points flattered them – head coach Gregor Townsend has made five changes to the starting line-up and eight to the matchday 23, making it deep surgery rather than sticking plasters in terms of selection.
Former captain John Barclay, Ryan Wilson and Tommy Seymour are the biggest casualties as Townsend has changed his side ruthlessly, betraying a change of style as well as changes in personnel – the physical Chris Harris replaces the cerebral ball player Duncan Taylor, ball-in-hand livewire Darcy Graham replaces kick-chasing expert and poacher Tommy Seymour out wide.
BBC Scotland’s Tom English has stated Townsend’s choices have made a sizeable statement. He said: “A big statement has been made here. This represents a sharp axe falling on the older guard. Townsend had two options in terms of reacting to that loss – give the bulk of the team a chance to redeem themselves or tear it up and start again. He’s gone with the latter.”
A completely transformed back-row will be Magnus Bradbury at blindside flanker, Jamie Ritchie at openside and Blade Thomson at number eight, meaning Barclay has dropped out of the match-day squad, with Wilson on the bench and nuggety number seven Hamish Watson already dispatched home with a knee injury.
In the backline, Harris swaps in for Taylor at outside centre, with Graham in for Seymour on the right wing, while Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell will equal Roy Laidlaw and John Rutherford’s record of 35 starts together at half-back.
Zander Fagerson, Adam Hastings and George Horne – coming in after Ali Price was ruled out due to injury – are added to the substitutes’ bench after missing the dismal opening defeat last weekend.
Would a fit Mark Bennett, who scored a hat-trick in Edinburgh’s 50-15 Pro14 win over Zebre on Saturday, make the first-choice midfield? Strength in depth is one thing, but it seems clear Townsend and Scottish fans don’t know their best team or style of play yet, not ideal during the World Cup tournament.
Tough meetings to discuss defeat
Numerous voices from inside the Scotland camp have confirmed there has been no hiding place from recriminations after the Ireland game – 17 players have spoken and picked at those wounds to try and make sure they don’t resurface.
Strength and conditioning coach Sean Lamont, a winger who made 108 appearances for Scotland, has been working hard since Sunday on toughening up minds as well as bodies, and scrum-half Laidlaw admitted on BBC Sport words had been exchanged.
He said: “There have been a few frank discussions about a few areas in our game. If we just go round in circles and be nice to each other, we’re not going to win many Test matches. It’s about being a man and looking each other in the eye and getting on with it.”
Samoan physicality to the fore
Hooker Motu Matu’u and centre Rey Lee-Lo have been cited and subsequently handed three-game bans for dangerous tackles on Russia captain Vasily Artemyev in their group opener; both were shown yellow but should have been given red, while wing Ed Fidow was cited for punching an opponent.
The Samoans are renowned for their unique physical attributes, and Laidlaw is calling on referee Pascal Gauzere to clamp down hard on any repeat of those high hits.
The Pacific Islanders may rein in their brutally attritional style of rugby given their lack of discipline against Russia, but still expect a certain fire and brimstone in the arena when the whistle blows.
New Worcester Warriors signing Fidow, who was cleared to play after being given a warning, has scored ten tries in his first nine Test matches, a feat only matched by Tana Umaga, Shane Williams and Bryan Habana.
Scotland: Hogg; Graham, Harris, Johnson, Maitland; Russell, Laidlaw; Dell, McInally (c), Nel, Gilchrist, Gray, Bradbury, Ritchie, Thomson.
Replacements: Brown, Reid, Fagerson, Cummings, Wilson, Horne, Hastings, Taylor.
Samoa: Nanai-Williams; Tuatagaloa, Leiua, Taefu, Fidow; Pisi, Matavao; Mulipola, Niuia, Alaalatoa, Paulo, Le’aupepe, Vui, Ioane, J Lam (c).
Replacements: S Lam, Alo-Emile, Lay, Faasalele, Tyrell, Cowley, Seuteni, Fonotia.
Scotland will play Samoa at 11.15am on Monday 30 September at the Misaki Stadium in Kobe, refereed by Frenchman Gauzere.
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