As with any fixture involving Scottish Rugby, this season’s autumn tests can be expected to provide edge of the seat viewing.
The introduction of an away northern hemisphere fixture against Wales, resurgent South African and Argentinian squads and the flair of Fiji promises to make this year’s autumn tests as exciting as any in recent memory. This is impressive considering last year’s performances where, in Gregor Townsend’s first set of Autumn tests, Scotland produced historic performances against Australia – with their largest points win over a Southern Hemisphere side 54-24 – and New Zealand – with a thrilling narrow defeat.
Scotland’s first fixture against Wales at the Millennium (Principality) Stadium offers two unusual opportunities.
Firstly, Scotland have a comparatively poor away record against northern hemisphere opposition and performed dismally in Cardiff during this year’s Six Nations losing 34 – 7. It is unusual for the northern hemisphere sides to play away fixtures in this window, so this will be an opportunity for Scotland to notch up a rare late season away win.
Secondly, the out of competition window fixture means players in France and England will not be eligible for selection and accordingly first team regulars such as Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland and Dave Denton for Scotland and Dan Bigger and Liam Williams for Wales will not feature. Coupled injuries to Stuart Hogg, Taulupe Faletau and a few others, this fixture frees up space for rookies on both sides.
Given the match context it is hard to gauge the exact mentality of the sides going into this game. How willing will coaches be to blood youngsters versus delivering a win over such a fierce rival?
In this regard perhaps of greatest note is a likely starting berth for in-form Glasgow Warriors stand off Adam Hastings due to the unavailability of Finn Russell. Starting away from home, against top tier opposition would be a test for any younger player but in the pivotal no. 10 jersey Hastings will be particularly exposed. Whether fair or no, judgement will be made as to the future potential of Hastings based on this match alone.
Other expected match-ups to watch include: youngster Blair Kinghorn against Lion’s (starter) Leigh Halfpenny at full back; and a Scotland back-row missing captain John Barclay competing against any number of possible Welsh combinations.
Our computer currently predicts a Welsh victory by 8 points, however the lack of regular starters for both teams increases the uncertainty in this result. It will be interesting to see what happens come match day…
N.B The remainder of Scotland’s fixtures predictions will change as the weeks progress and results come in. Please check back at the appropriate time to see what’s changed.