Scotland coach Vern Cotter has called on his squad to back up their young, inexperienced props and fill them with confidence ahead of tomorrow’s Test against Australia.
Edinburgh loosehead Allan Dell will win his first cap and Glasgow tighthead Zander Fagerson his second in a first starting appearance when the autumn Test series gets under way at BT Murrayfield. There will be a stark contrast in between the two young props as hooker Ross Ford wins his 100th cap, becoming the third Scottish Test centurion and the first forward in the club alongside Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont.
“They’ve got to get started sometime,” said Cotter of Dell and Fagerson. “We need to give the boys confidence, back them up, get them out there and we’ll assess it after.”
The coach paid tribute to Ford and said: “He’s been a stand-out performer in the front row for Scotland and his experience will be vital.
“It’s nice to see an old head like that playing his 100th game, and he’s putting arms round one guy who’s winning his first cap and another who’s winning his second. Everybody wants Fordy to have a good game, a memorable game, for his 100th.”
In-form Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson will make his first start and earn his third cap in the match, while Stormers centre Huw Jones gets a second cap in a new-look midfield pairing with Alex Dunbar.
Cotter paid tribute to Watson and said: “Hamish hit the ground running first day in camp. He’s moved forward as a person, a player and as a character. I think his game has become more rounded. His carry was always very good. Now he is working on techniques.
“He can do things that other players can’t do. At loose forward you always judge them on being able to do things that change the game. Hamish gets the chance. He’s been sitting in there, biding his time and been patient. We think it’s his time to get out there and have a crack.”
Edinburgh hooker Ford admitted that his aim was to go past fellow Borderer Paterson and become the nation’s most capped player.
“Hopefully. I feel in good shape,” said the 32-year-old from Kelso. “If I am playing well enough I will be keep putting my hand up for selection. It is up to me to make that happen for future games and that is something I am willing to do. Retirement is not near yet. I have a few more years left in me.”
In a pleasing piece of symmetry Ford will win his 100th against the same opposition as his first when he takes the field against Australia tomorrow.
Ford came off the bench in the November 2004 Test against the Wallabies and packed down between props Allan Jacobsen and Bruce Douglas. That’s just about as far as the memories of that day go, however.
“My first cap was such a blur,” he said. “All I can remember is that I came on, threw a lineout, came round the tail on the peel and got absolutely emptied.
“All I was worrying about was getting the ball back and once I’d done that I was ‘that’s me staying out of the road’.”
Asked when he started thinking the ton could be on, Ford said: “When I hit the 90s I thought ‘I can maybe get to 100 here’.
“You never try counting them, you never really think about milestones, it’s only when the 50 went by, and then I got to 75 – these weren’t things you were looking for at the outset.
“It’s only when you get into the 90s that you’re thinking there aren’t many people have got in the hundreds. There’s only been two Scottish players before me and I think there have only been 44 in world rugby so it creeps up on you slowly.”
Ford will have extra responsibility tomorrow as he looks to guide his inexperienced props through the game. “It is Delly’s first cap and Zander’s first start but both have been playing well for their clubs,” said Ford.
“It is a matter of getting them in the right frame of mind and getting them through the game to do a good job.”
Glasgow wing Tommy Seymour is unavailable due to personal reasons.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow); Sean Maitland (Saracens), Huw Jones (Stormers), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow), Tim Visser (Harlequins); Finn Russell (Glasgow), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, c); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Richie Gray (Toulouse), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), John Barclay (Scarlets), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow). Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Gordon Reid (Glasgow), Moray Low (Exeter), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), John Hardie (Edinburgh), Ali Price (Glasgow), Pete Horne (Glasgow), Rory Hughes (Glasgow).
Australia: Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge, Henry Speight; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Lopeti Timani, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Subs: Tolu Latu, Tom Robertson, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Nick Phipps, Quade Cooper.
Tomorrow, 2.30pm. BT Murrayfield. Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).