Need to Know: Scotland v Australia match preview

KO 4.00 at Twickenham Stadium, Sunday 18th October
Live on ITV

Is it a case of mission accomplished for Scotland, making the quarter finals after missing out in agonising fashion in 2011? Or can they raise their game and provide one of the shocks of the tournament? The side will be much more comfortable being the underdogs than they were as heavy favourites in last week’s heart-stopper against Samoa at St. James’ Park.


15 Stuart Hogg
14 Sean Maitland
13 Mark Bennett
12 Peter Horne
11 Tommy Seymour
10 Finn Russell
9 Grieg Laidlaw (c)
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 WP Nel
4 Jonny Gray
5 Richie Gray
6 Blair Cowan
7 John Hardie
8 David Denton
15 Kurtley Beale
14 Adam Ashley-Cooper
13 Tevita Kuridrani
12 Matt Giteau
11 Drew Mitchell
10 Bernard Foley
9 Will Genia
1 Scott Sio
2 Stephen Moore (c)
3 Sekope Kepu
4 Kane Douglas
5 Rob Simmons
6 Scott Fardy
7 Michael Hooper
8 Ben McCalman

16 Fraser Brown
17 Gordon Reid
18 Jon Welsh
19 Tim Swinson
20 Josh Strauss
21 Henry Pyrgos
22 Richie Vernon
23 Sean Lamont

16 Tatafu Polota-Nau
17 James Slipper
18 Greg Holmes
19 Dean Mumm
20 Sean McMahon
21 Nick Phipps
22 Matt Toomua
23 Quade Cooper

Team Talk
Not many options for Big Vern Cotter in the selection meetings this week. 2 suspensions (don’t get me started!), injuries to Matt Scott and Ryan Grant and Ryan Wilson’s disastrously pish performance last week meant he was down to picking 23 from 26 – SHC, Duncan Weir and Tim Visser the men to miss out.
UPDATE: The farce is strong with this tournament – Ross Ford and Jonny Gray have both now been cleared of foul play on appeal and are free to play immediately. Cotter has to decide if it is too disruptive to reinstate 2 players who might be first choice but who cannot prepared properly with the starting XV this week so the Scotland side may still be subject to change…
FURTHER UPDATE: Team now updated as Ford and Gray Start, Brown and Swinson drop to the bench and Bryce and Strokosch miss out on the 23. Ford will be making his 13th RWC match for Scotland – only Chris Paterson (15) and Doddie Weir (14) have made more appearances.

Head to Head:
Back 3 – ADV Australia

  • One of the strongest areas for Scotland and Seymour and Maitland have at least looked like they’re in reasonable form (on the rare occasions they’ve actually got decent ball). However Oz have a vastly experienced trio lying in wait with the key man potentially being Kurtely Beale. If Good Kurtley turns up it’ll be a long day for the Scottish defence. If Bad Kurtley is on the scene Scotland need to take advantage. The Scots should have the edge in outright pace but for that to be significant they’ll need quality ball from the forwards and inside backs.

Centres – ADV Australia

  • The Scottish duo are clubmates but have rarely started together and it’s questionable whether they strike the right balance with both being offensive-minded players who first instinct is to go for the gap. Defensively Horne makes up for his diminutive stature with a tackling technique that features a reckless disregard for his own personal safety – and surely the centres cannot possibly defend as poorly again as they did last week against Samoa’s unstructured, off-the-cuff inspiration? Somehow they have to find a way to stop the hugely influential Matt Giteau on the occasion of his 100th cap

Half Backs – EVEN

  • On current form it should be advantage Australia with Bernard Foley showing he can control games at the top level. But (and possibly I’m being a bit harsh here) he remains a player who seems to have inherited the jersey more due to the failings of others rather than through his own strengths. Finn Russell has hopefully got the rust out his system and is ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Scotland need to be playing off 10 rather than 9 if they want to move the game away from the Australian’s stifling work at the breakdown and Greig Laidlaw needs a toe up his jacksie every time he waits before making a pass. He also needs to be aggressive in competing with Will Genia who is a shadow of the player who used to be one of the very best in the world.

Front Row – EVEN

  • If (and it’s a big if) Australia were to go on and win the tournament their first action when getting home should be to put up a statue of Super Mario Ledesma, who has taken a barely functioning scrum and turned it into a unit that can compete with pretty much anyone. The Scottish front row has lost a couple of stone from the suspension of Ross Ford but add some mobility (still no actual hooking of the ball though).

Second Row – ADV Australia

  • Scotland lose some workrate in terms of the sheer number of carries and tackles Jonny Gray would normally make but Tim Swinson is a whole-hearted (if slightly undersized) player. The Oz duo aren’t likely to set any pulses racing but Cheika is getting the very best out of them and they know exactly what they need to contribute to complement the remainder of the pack. The key man may be Richie Gray. If he can dominate the lineout like he is capable of he could provide Scotland with the sort of ball the back line is craving while disrupting the supply to the green and a gold.

Back Row – ADV Australia

  • David Pocock is undoubtedly a huge loss for the Wallabies but their depth is such that they will barely skip a beat in most areas affected by the back row – Scotland will just be marginally less under pressure in the immediate aftermath of tackle situations. John Hardie’s battle with Michael Hooper will be fascinating and there are likely to be some clashes as they both look to occupy the same piece of real estate. Scotland really need David Denton to get back to his form of the RWC warm up matches as he will be their primary ball carrier and they need to be getting across the gain line consistently to put the Ozzies under pressure.

Numbers you need to know
Number of caps advantage the Australian starting XV have over their Scottish counterparts (818 for Oz to 350 for Scotland).

John Hardie’s try against Samoa was the 125th RWC try for Scotland.

Points scored by Greig Laidlaw in the pool stages – only Gavin Hastings has scored more for Scotland. Any score in the quarter final will take him 3rd all time on the Scottish RWC points scorer list behind Hastings and Chris Paterson.

Tommy Seymour has scored a try in his last 4 Tests – only Martin Leslie and Gregor Townsend (both 5 matches) have managed more for Scotland in the professional era.

Wins for Scotland in RWCs outwith the pool stages in 9 attempts. Both came against Western Samoa / Samoa (1991 and 1999). They have never beaten any other nation in the knockout stages and have never beaten a SANZAR nation in a World Cup game.

Previous results
The sides have met 28 times across almost 88 years with Scotland victorious on 9 occasions, with their last win coming in 2012. There has been one previous encounter between the 2 teams at a World Cup:

        • 2003 Scotland 16-33 Australia (Murrayfield)

If anyone can remember the Scottish try scorer that day without googling it then take a gold star! The only real highlight for Scotland that day was a huge drop goal by Chris Paterson – which probably tells you how far off the pace they were up against the eventual runners up.

Most recent meeting:

        • Scotland 15-21 Australia (Murrrayfield)

There may not be a lot of relevance from this result given that only 4 of the Scottish starting XV and 6 of their Australian counterparts started the previous time the 2 sides met.

So how do Scotland win this game?

Well, all the traditional options are there – lock the Wallabies in their dressing room; hire Suzie; meteor strike. If we want to be more positive then there are a few key areas Scotland need to get right:

  • Scrum – Scotland need parity here as an absolute minimum. Offensively it allows them the opportunity to play the ball with certainty about the positioning of the Australian back row. Defensively they cannot allow Oz to use it as a source of penalties giving them field position or points.
  • Lineout – the best lineout operator on the pitch on Sunday will be wearing a blue jersey and Scotland need to take advantage of this. They’ll need to mix up their plays – mauls, dummy mauls, going narrow – in order to create the space that the 10/12/13 axis are capable of exploiting.
  • Mauls – the Scottish maul is like our cuisine – stodgy and passes through in a rather sedate manner with the occasional explosion to keep you on your toes. The Australian maul is much more dynamic and the Scots are likely to have to employ strategies to stop it getting set rather than trying to counter drive once it’s in motion. Here’s hoping that slow and steady wins the race in this contest.
  • Offloading – Scotland were weak in the contact area on their own ball, allowing Samoa to win 4 or 5 penalties plus turnovers at the tackle area due to poor support but mainly ineffective clearouts. A move towards the Glasgow game plan of offloading and moving the point of contact would increase the risk of errors but will help cover some of the deficiencies at the breakdown and force the Australian pack to make quick decisions about where and when to commit themselves.
  • 9 & 10 – as mentioned above if Scotland are to be successful in getting their dangerous strike runners and ball players in the outside backs involved in the game they need to be playing off Finn Russell and not Greig Laidlaw. The mercurial stand off is the key to spreading the ball and unlocking the Australian defence. He needs to top his performance in the Pro 12 Grand Final if Scotland are to have any chance of pulling off a shock victory.

Craig Joubert has refereed Scotland 3 times in the 6 Nations and they have lost on each occasion. Perhaps more significantly they have been on the wrong side of the penalty account in all 3 matches, including a desperately disappointing loss at home against Wales where Mr. Joubert was conned into awarding a string of penalties at scrum time by a hugely experienced Welsh front row. Let’s hope for better luck in the set piece on Sunday. For more stats on Mr. Joubert visit Great Call Rugby who have some excellent analysis on the officials at the current tournament.

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