Powerful Aussie pack to see off Scots again
Scotland v Australia Murrayfield, 5.30Today's 23rd Test between Scotland and Australia at Murrayfield was to have celebrated the opening of Edinburgh's Scottish Parliament building. Unfortunately for the Scots, the votes have already been cast in the visitors' favour.
Not even the most fervent of home supporters will be predicting something that has not happened in the preceding 22 meetings between these sides - namely a Scottish victory - and this evening's game in Edinburgh's gloaming may force Bill McLaren into a hiding place behind his sofa.
Matt Williams, Scotland's Australian coach, has been scathing of the English clubs' decision not to release their Scottish internationals for the first of two meetings with the Wallabies in a fortnight - the second is at Hampden Park.
And with his two most experienced forwards Scott Murray and Tom Smith out injured, the team of home-based Scots is packed with journeymen.
Moreover Australia's coach Eddie Jones is in no mood to give his compatriot Williams any home comfort. He and his cricket equivalent John Buchanan have been swapping notes but, yesterday's slip in Mumbai notwithstanding, the Scots have as much chance tonight as would Bangladesh in a Test against Australia's cricketers.
Jones's team were off colour in their last Tri-Nations game, a defeat in Durban to the competition winners South Africa, but he said: "We are a better team than we were 12 months ago in the World Cup. This hasn't been reflected in our results and there is bound to be a certain amount of rustiness on this tour, but we are confident that we can soon start to put together a series of pretty complete performances."
Jones has the luxury of keeping two of his former rugby league stars, Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers, on the bench as he names an unchanged backline for the fourth successive game, pairing the prodigiously talented Matt Giteau with the battering ram that is Stirling Mortlock at centre. The thought of unleashing Sailor and Rogers in the last quarter against a raw, tiring set of Scottish backs will have given Jones a warm feeling.
Certainly it will be a tough baptism for Scotland's new captain Gordon Bulloch, who leads the side in the absence of Murray. Williams conceded yesterday that the Wallabies had no weaknesses. The coach said: "They're highly skilled but when the South Africans went for them (in Durban) it put them off their game.
"The South Africans hustled them with their physicality and perhaps we didn't in the summer Tests. We weren't as physical as we should have been or we might have been in the two Tests in Australia. When you look at them as a team, they have just been beaten in a World Cup final and just lost a great Tri-Nations series, which shows there aren't a lot of weaknesses there."
Despite his selection problems Williams is demanding a "vast improvement" from his players after their two defeats at the hands of the Wallabies last June. Scotland lost 35-15 and 34-13 but this time he is convinced his players will hit them hard with more tackles to stop the tourists playing their dynamic game.
"You've got to stop them and play your own game," said Williams. "If you don't stop Australia, and that was our problem in the summer, then you're asking for trouble. We actually played quite well in Australia but didn't stop them enough. Our missed-tackle count was way too high."
With Nathan Sharpe out of the tour, Jones has named Mark Chisholm for the first time. The 23-year-old lock is on the bench and the Queenslander John Roe makes his first start at number eight, relegating David Lyons to a place among the replacements.
Roe lines up alongside two open-sides, George Smith and Phil Waugh, in a small but mobile and devastatingly effective back row. Roe is unusual in these days of high-pressure international rugby in having a sideline as a medical student.
It is the Scots, though, who look certain to be swallowing the bitter pill of defeat tonight.
SCOTLAND: S Moffat (Borders); S Lamont (Glasgow) G Morrison (Glasgow) A Henderson (Glasgow) C Paterson (Edinburgh); D Parks (Glasgow) C Cusiter (Borders); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) G Bulloch (capt, Glasgow) B Douglas (Borders) N Hines (Edinburgh) S MacLeod (Borders) S Gray (Borders) D Macfadyen (Glasgow) A Hogg (Edinburgh) . Replacements: R Ford (Borders), C Smith, A Kellock (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh), H Southwell (Edinburgh), J Petrie, A Craig (both Glasgow)
AUSTRALIA: C Latham (Queensland); C Rathbone (ACT) S Mortlock (ACT) M Giteau (ACT) L Tuqiri (NSW); S Larkham (ACT) G Gregan (capt, ACT); B Young (ACT) J Paul (ACT) A Baxter (NSW) J Harrison (NSW) D Vickerman (NSW) G Smith (ACT) P Waugh (NSW) J Roe (Queensland). Replacements: B Cannon, M Dunning, D Lyons, M Rogers (all NSW), W Sailor, E Flatley (both Queensland), M Chisholm (ACT)