Gregor Townsend made a very interesting selection for his team in Scotland to play on Fiji on Saturday. I knew there would be changes, but I did not think there would be nine from the side that started in Cardiff.
I fully expected that the & # 39; exile players & # 39; – Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Sean Maitland – would be brought back, but some others have surprised me.
A very positive one is Stuart Hogg, fit again and immediately back without playing a rugby for Glasgow since his injury. The idea was that he missed the whole autumn series, so his return is a huge boost for everyone. He is the player that makes people enthusiastic. Together with Russell they are the two superstars of the Scotland team, who illuminate the field with their skills and flair and a constant threat to the opposition.
Stuart Hogg has made a remarkable recovery from injury to make room for full-back
They have certainly done their best to transform this Scotland team from the blunt, predictable outfit we saw against Wales in the ambitious, creative and exciting team we have seen over the last 12 months.
If Hogg had played last week, we might not have noticed him because of the way the team played. Blair Kinghorn never had the chance to run with a ball in space. The same applies to Lee Jones, Tommy Seymour and, indeed, Huw Jones. The only chance they got with a ball in hand was the return of Wales's kicks, but the kick-chase of the hosts was excellent and did not give them any space.
The life of an outside has always been like that; almost completely dependent on what happens in them to determine the chances of showing their skills. Huw Jones paid the price in terms of selection, not because of his lack of attacking threat, but because his defensive weaknesses were twice exposed to Wales for both scores. Jones is a player that moves forward – think of the Calcutta Cup game? – but he has to improve his defense, which he will do.
Greig Laidlaw will accompany Finn Russell in a formidable combination of half a back
It means that we have two players out of ten and twelve, in Russell and the recalled Pete Horne, with Alex Dunbar bringing one to 13. I like this because it reduces the creativity that unfortunately did not last week. Both are very good at playing what lies ahead and find space for the runners. We will know that they have done their work when Hogg, Maitland and Seymour receive the ball in the wide channels with space to attack.
The changes in front have also surprised me. Stuart McInally, Jonny Gray and Hamish Watson have been the rocks where the rest of the pack was built last year, so there is a bit of player management going on. It is a great opportunity to see that Sam Skinner wins his first hat and Jamie Ritchie gets the chance to start with openside. It will also show us how deep the strength is within the team.
Watson will play against South Africa next week, because he has always been the best player in Scotland, but we need to know how we can play without him if he sustains an injury. Another surprise is that Josh Strauss will not get the start at No. 8. When he was recalled, I thought it was for one reason; a ball carrier that can come over the gain line every time he hits the ball and gives our attacking game a good platform to play from. But I'm happy for Matt Fagerson because he was excellent for Glasgow this season and certainly impressed when he left the bench last week.
It will be a tough race today. Fiji has so much individual talent within his team that it is scary. We know two very well; Bill Mata from Edinburgh and Leone Nakarawa, formerly from Glasgow. Mata has done great things this season, but not close to the levels that the great Leone reached when he played at Scotstoun. The Weighing from Fiji was sensational and his performance in the Pro12 finale in Belfast was his finest hour and delivered the best performance of a second row I have ever seen. I would even say that Nakarawa was the best player to play in Scotland in the professional era.
His discharge capacity must be carefully monitored by Scotland today, but across the board we must be too strong for this side of Fiji. This is the start of a piece with five matches at BT Murrayfield, with the three autumn tests and the first two matches in the Six Nations. Scotland has won eight of their last nine games here and I expect the run to continue.