Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend claims to have rejected the chance to experiment for the opening game of the 2020 Autumn campaign against Georgia, no matter how experimental the team appears.
Even though there’s no Finn Russell for now, captain Stuart Hogg and stalwart Jonny Gray are otherwise engaged, there’s a couple of new caps and a couple more who have played sparingly or not at all at Murrayfield for Scotland, Townsend isn’t for development or experimentation, he says.
“You’ll see by the squad we’ve picked that there is no `development’ here – the only development is how we improve as a team,” he said. “We believe we’ve picked our strongest squad available in terms of training, the games played, and the cohesion.
“It’s about respecting the opposition who are a very tough team to break down. We are also looking ahead and the best way to build cohesion is getting team-mates to play together as well as training together.”
Russell is on the bench because he’s had just three days and two sessions back with the squad after a year, there are new schemes, coaches and all the rest, and of course because Adam Hastings grew into the 10 shirt latterly in the Six Nations. Finn is however straight on to the bench and will surely win his 50th cap on Friday.
“I don’t think (Adam’s) started the new season where he finished (before lockdown) but that can be understandable given it was such a long break,” said Townsend. “But certainly the last two games he’s been dictating play, getting on ball, he’s very fit just now too.
“We’re enjoying seeing him in that No 10 jersey but there’s a lot of competition there – he knows that. We’re looking for competition with Finn and Duncan (Weir) to bring out the best in him: to bring out the best in the three of them.
“Obviously we wanted to see if Finn got through last weekend’s game, seeing where he was. It is a tighter turnaround for anybody coming into a squad this week given that we have only really had two training sessions before a Friday game.
“It was important that he was back in the squad, he is playing well at Racing and we want to integrate him back into the squad to get the best out of him.”
The dynamic Edinburgh wing Duhan van der Merwe’s debut was expected – “if he can get up to double figure carries, that’s going to be good for us as a team,” said Townsend – while it was also assumed Oli Kebble would also debut off the bench at loose head prop.
Sam Johnson’s recent lack of game time – he’s expected to play for Glasgow this weekend – means that James Lang gets his first chance to play at Murrayfield two years after his first cap.
“Last season James really impressed us with Harlequins,” said Tonwsend. “He put on a little bit more muscle, was more dominant around the tackle area and ball-carrying, but still had that fantastic work rate.
“Something we really appreciate as well is his ability to play in different positions. We see him more as a 12 than a 10, 13 or 15, but those are the positions he’s played in, which shows that he’s able to make decisions and has the skill set and the awareness to play anywhere in the back line.”
Decision in the second row have been complicated by a groin injury to Grant Gilchrist which rules him out of the entire autumn campaign and Ben Toolis gets the call alongside Scott Cummings, with the resurgent Rob Harley the bench choice ahead of Richie Gray.
The 6 -2 split of forwards and backs on the bench is made simpler by the personnel available and something the coaching team wanted to look at, said Townsend.
“We’ve often thought about a 6-2 split and for various reasons we thought this was a good game to try it out,” he said. “One is our opposition, who have obvious strengths in their forward pack.
“A second one is the weather which comes and goes as your selecting a team a few days out, but it does look like it might be wet at the weekend.
“And also we feel in terms of the back row we’re keen to see Nick (Haining) and Cornell (du Preez) get game time. They’ve both impressed us so far this season so they’ll be coming off the bench.”
Team: Team: Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), James Lang (Harlequins), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh); Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Ali Price (Glasgow); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow, capt), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow).
Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Rob Harley (Glasgow), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Cornell du Preez (Worcester), George Horne (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Racing 92)