Scotland desperate to round off autumn series with win
Another sell-out crowd will pitch up at BT Murrayfield this afternoon hoping for another feast of quality Test rugby and a crackling atmosphere to warm the soul.
The autumn series reaches its climax in what will be decidedly wintry conditions but many of the 67,144 will be returning after experiencing the hot atmosphere last weekend which so nearly lifted the Scots to an historic win over the All Blacks and will be expecting more of the same, this time with a victory to celebrate.
Scotland will, however, be facing class opponents not lacking in motivation of their own and know that any drop off from the All Blacks display is likely to be punished.
The Wallabies have come through what has been, at times, a difficult year. They were slated for losing to Scotland in Sydney in June and for shipping over 50 points to the All Blacks at home.
They steadied the ship and showed marked improvement in the Rugby Championship and comfortably beating Wales at the start of the month but suffered more trauma at Twickenham last weekend when they suffered an unfortunate 30-6 defeat and coach Michael Cheika was hauled before the beaks over his conduct before being eventually cleared.
It may have been played down on Thursday but their time in Edinburgh has not passed without incident as their training was disrupted on Tuesday to perhaps add further fire to Australian bellies.
This will be the last hit out of a long season and, with veteran hooker Stephen Moore making his 129th and final Test appearance, the Scots know they are up against a highly driven and battle hardened outfit.
“They’ll be motivated like any Test,” said Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor after the squad’s final training session. “They’ll be disappointed that they lost [to England], and we’re disappointed that we lost [to New Zealand].
“We’ll be highly motivated and we know that there’s been some really close tussles with Australia over the years, they’ve always been close games. I think you’ll find two highly motivated teams, and two really attacking teams and some good defence in there.
“I think it sets up for a really good Test match, similar to last week, and hopefully we’re good enough to come out on the right side of it.”
Taylor reiterated the view of head coach Gregor Townsend that Australia are the best attacking team in the world and will present Scotland with yet another formidable challenge.
“I think both weeks are really hard. We’re playing the best team in the world, and then the third best team in the world,” said Taylor.
“We’re thinking anyone in the top ten on their day, you play any of them it’s going to be a challenge. They’re very good with their set-piece plays, as are New Zealand, and they beat you with their one-on-one skill very well.
“They always have really good set moves and set-piece plays so we’ll try and rep some of them because they repeat them fairly regularly when they’re good and have some success with them.
“Again there will be plays that we haven’t seen before that they’ll pull out and I guess it means us understanding and being on the same page, that we’re setting up defensively correctly and we’re tackling very well as well.”
Taylor believes the late change of Pete Horne for Alex Dunbar in the centre has not caused disruption as they were preparing for the possibility after the latter, who is the team’s defensive leader, suffered a head knock last weekend.
“We knew all along he had to go through the protocols so Horney’s done a lot of the training, most of the week,” explained Taylor.
“It’s difficult sometimes when a player has to drop out but we’ve had a lot of time with Pete running attack and defence so we knew it could eventuate like that, so we’re prepared for that.”
Horne will be looking to make amends for the lapse last autumn when, soon after coming off the bench, he fell off the tackle which allowed Tevita Kuridrani to barge through for the winning try in a dramatic 23-22 win at Murrayfield.
“Horney’s a very good defender himself, a very good tackler,” said Taylor. “Alex is in there because he’s a big guy, tackles well and he’s really hard on the ball, like an extra back rower. That’s a strength of his, he’s very good at pilfering ball and bringing the line up.
“But Horney’s very good at that as well, he’s a real accurate tackler and he brings a lot of communication to the group, so he brings different strengths.”
Edinburgh’s Phil Burleigh slots in on the bench and, if he gets on, will be the seventh player to make their Scotland debut this month, following Darryl Marfo, Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Chris Harris, Byron McGuigan and Luke Hamilton.