Scotland have – arguably – picked a less experimental side for Japan than they did for the Springboks last week as they seek to end Autumn on a high.
Gregor Townsend left three “established” players out of the team for the world champions, but restores them all this week. Hamish Watson, Sam Johnson and Darcy Graham all start, and the three who replaced them aren’t even in the 23 this week.
The one “experiment” is a first start for Bath’s Josh Bayliss at No 8. Jamie Bhatti is at loose-head and Scott Cumming is recalled after two months out with a hand injury.
But otherwise all the frontline players are there as Townsend hopes to build momentum going into the next match, England at home in the Six Nations in just ten weeks’ time.
Building momentum for England
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) November 18, 2021
“It’s important that players currently in the mix to be playing in that game get an opportunity to continue momentum from last year’s 6N and this autumn,” said Townsend.
Bayliss had only been thought of as a 7 when called up last year, but performances for Bath at No 8 convinced Townsend to give him a shot there this week.
“We’re looking for him to transfer his club form into the international arena,” said Townsend. “He brings a real point of difference, with his speed. We aspire to play quickly and that’ll be really important this weekend against Japan who play a fast game.”
Bhatti’s recall at start for the first time in three years means that three players – Zander Fagerson, Ali Price and Jamie Ritchie – will start all four Autumn Tests.
Defence is the biggest step forward
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) November 18, 2021
The memories of the last meeting with Japan in Yokohama at the 2019 Rugby World Cup are still sharp, but Scotland are very different now, he agreed.
“We’ve been tougher to beat, right up until the weekend,” he said. “Most of our results since 2019 are either victories or defeats within a score.
“It was disappointing at the weekend, but we know we got ourselves into a position where if we had executed things better we could have kicked on to that final quarter.
“Defence has been the biggest step forward, but it’s also partly down to players’ experience and game management.
“I still feel we’re a side that could score a try at any point in the game, like we showed at the weekend.”
‘We’ll see their best performance’
We should look past Japan’s results this autumn, he continued.
“We know what a dangerous team they can be, especially when they spend more time together,” he said. “That result a couple of weeks ago in Ireland (a 60-5 defeat) was their second match with a few months gap, not just international but also from them playing club rugby.
“We’ll see their best performance of this campaign on Saturday, I’m sure. It’s up to us to deliver our best performance on the other side.”
Stuart Hogg (Exeter, capt); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow); Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), George Turner (Glasgow), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Josh Bayliss (Bath).
Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), Javan Sebastian (Scarlets), Sam Skinner (Exeter), Dylan Richardson (Sharks), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow), George Horne (Glasgow) Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh).