Scotland kick off their autumn internationals against Tonga on Saturday

Scotland v Tonga Preview – Autumn Internationals

It’s outside the official Test match window and not all of the top players are available, so this is an opportunity to see something new.

Scotland have eight uncapped players in their match squad, with four in the starting lineup.  Visitors Tonga, meanwhile, are picking players from all over Europe – with 22 of their wider squad across this spell coming from France – and have landed on eight uncapped figures too (six starting).

For some, this Scottish selection is delivering on a promise. In the summer the Scots were due to play Romania and Georgia, capping a caste of newbies along the way, to help build some depth. But the tour blew up, thanks to that dastardly pandemic. Now exciting stars are getting the go ahead. And some other form horses can run in.

If ever there was a match to try it out, it’s this one – okay, it’s hardly a renegade fixture as it’s sanctioned by World Rugby, but it’s outside Regulation 9 time, with some England and France-based stars missing and a Tongan outfit given odds of 30/1 to get a result in Edinburgh.

And while Tonga’s head coach Toutai Kefu was involved in selection here, he was unable to travel with the team to Europe as he continues his recovery from a violent attack by intruders in his home in Brisbane, Australia.

What’s the big team news?

Should we start with the big positional bits? Well, without Finn Russell and Adam Hastings, Scotland have picked Blair Kinghorn at fly-half (in all previous Tests, he has started or come off the bench as, a wing or full-back). And on the bench is the exciting prospect, Ross Thompson. Oh yeah, and Darcy Graham is at 15 too.

If it’s excitement you want, then newcomers Rufus McLean (wing) and Sione Tuipulotu (centre) have been running around like toddlers on a sugar high, with Glasgow.

Jamie Hodgson is also making his debut in the second row, alongside Rob Harley who is making quite the comeback. Up front, it’s a first showing for Pierre Schoeman.

As for Tonga, they have gone to the well in an out-of-window event and had to find some… interesting names. For example, the ‘Tongan Bear’ Loni Uhila is a sprightly 32 years old,  and he’s on his debut after being called up from Carqueiranne-Hyères. Fellow debutant Vaea Vaea, a centre, has a past in rugby league. And veteran Kurt Morath is steering the ship. The ten turns 37 on 13 November.

Glasgow fans will hope to see something spicy from their winger Walter Fifita who starts, alongside Fotu Lokotui, himself a former Warrior.

At least Tonga have opted to pick a captain – Sonatane Takulua. Scotland apparently couldn’t pick between Jamie Ritchie and Ali Price, so the pair will co-captain at Murrayfield.

What have the coaches said?

Townsend reflected on their loss to Tonga nine years ago and is focused on not letting history repeat itself.
He said: “Tonga will probably view that game as a massive high in the history of them as a rugby team. And we’ll be working so it doesn’t happen again.
“They’re very dangerous. They can score a try out of nothing and they’re a hugely motivated team – they’re going to be tough opponents. I don’t think there’s a team in world rugby or a group of people who tackle harder than the Tongans.
“There’s the unknown factor as well. They will be putting a team together that probably hasn’t played much, so we’re not going to be able to look at footage of how this team plays.”
Scotland v Tonga

Gregor Townsend will look to continue his Scotland success (Getty Images)

Tonga Rugby Union CEO Peter Harding has said squad selection has been difficult.
He said: “(Kefu and Fonua) have done a great job putting this squad together. In addition, the Scotland game is outside the international rugby regulation nine release window. This has taken some negotiation with clubs, undertaken by Toutai and Lano and this has to this date been successful.
“Clubs have been good to deal with and I want to thank the French Rugby Federation for their assistance.”

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

The match will kick-off at 2.30pm on Saturday, 30 October at BT Murrayfield. Referee Nic Berry, assistant refs Damon Murphy and Angus Gardner and TMO Brett Cronan will take charge of the game.
Scotland v Tonga will be shown live on Amazon Prime and for all the information on pundits and commentators click here.

What are the line-ups?

Scotland: Darcy Graham; Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Sam Johnson, Rufus McLean; Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jamie Hodgson, Rob Harley, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Jamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson.

Tonga: James Faiva; Atunaisa Manu, Mailetoa Hingano, Vaea Vaea, Walter Fifita; Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua (captain); Loni Uhila, Maile Ngauamo, David Lolohea, Halaleva Fifita, Setofano Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Fotu Lokotui, Valentino Mapapalangi.

Replacements: Suia Maile, Jethro Felemi, Toma Taufa, Dan Faleafa, Onehunga Havili, Mateaki Kafatolu, Aisea Halo, Navarre Haisila.

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