Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend thinks the national team could suffer if there are more exiles following Finn Russell – but didn’t hesitate to bring one back into the starting team for Australia as soon as he was ready.
Sean Maitland is straight back into the team for the Wallabies in the final Autumn Test after just a couple of return outings for Saracens, one of four changes from the team that ran New Zealand so agonisingly close – or missed a glorious chance, depending on how your optimism ranks – last weekend.
Maitland replaces Lee Jones, who goes out of the matchday 23 completely. Elsewhere Ryan Wilson returns to the back row against the hard-done-by Cornell du Preez, Grant Gilchrist’s powerful showing carrying ball in the final few minutes against the All Blacks gets him into the team having not made the 23 against Samoa, and Simon Berghan will start at tighthead prop instead of Zander Fagerson.
Fagerson is on the bench because although he passed concussion protocols he hasn’t been part of training, although Alex Dunbar will start having passed the same protocols.
Meanwhile Townsend is concerned about an exodus of his best players to the big money in England and France after Russell’s decision to join Racing 92 in Paris from next season.
Richie Gray and Greig Laidlaw are already in France – although both are presently injured and have played no part in the Autumn Series. The only exiles to have been selected this month have been captain John Barclay – who is coming back from Scarlets anyway – and newcomers Byron McGuigan, Chris Harris and Luke Hamilton. McGuigan, formerly of Glasgow and now with Sale, has been retained for the bench this weekend.
“The better thing for the national team is more people playing in Scotland,” said Townsend. “If more and more players leave Scotland, it will be much tougher for us.
“A huge reason Ireland have been successful is their players are in the same area, playing in Ireland and building up combinations and connections.
“Obviously we wish Finn all the best. We have two players currently injured in France who were likely to be in our squad – in Richie and Greig – and we’ll now have a third but you’ve got to make sure there’s not too many players leaving Scotland.”
Townsend had planned to keep as much of the team that played Samoa together as possible but injuries and some preferred combinations have pushed him into alterations.
“We play the current number three team in the world, and arguably the best attacking team in the world,” he said.
“Australia beat New Zealand a few weeks ago, were very good against Wales and for a lot of the game on a wet day against England, so we know we’re playing one of the form teams in the world right now.
“If we drop our standards, we’re not going to win. We need a better performance than last week to win.”
Dunbar, Hamish Watson and Darryl Marfo have recovered from injuries to retain their starting places. Hamilton suffered an ankle injury against the All Blacks and was available, but Du Preez moves to the bench with Wilson – “a very important player for us” said Townsend – making his return as co-vice-captain.
On the bench, Fraser Brown returns in place of George Turner although he last played for just a matter of minutes against Exeter for Glasgow in the European Cup more than a month ago.
Team: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar (all Glasgow), S Maitland (Saracens); F Russell, A Price (both Glasgow); D Marfo, S McInally, S Berghan (all Edinburgh); G Gilchrist (Edinburgh), J Gray (Glasgow); J Barclay (Scarlets), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow).
Replacements: F Brown, J Bhatti, Z Fagerson (all Glasgow), B Toolis, C du Preez (Both Edinburgh), H Pyrgos, P Horne (Both Glasgow), B McGuigan (Sale).