International rugby stars aren’t the only ones that haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy some quiet time this summer, with committed Scotland fans sacrificing long lie-ins this weekend and next in a show of support to Gregor Townsend’s troops.
The 6am kick-off on Saturday means alarm clocks up and down the country will need to be recalibrated to ensure eyes are suitably adjusted to a new day in what can be put down as preparation for next weekend’s even earlier start.
And, after gliding past a poor Italian side last time out, Townsend will be eager to see how his team gets on against an Australian outfit that may be in transition but no less dangerous than ever before. Theirs is a squad packed with explosive ability; from the athletic prowess of Israel Folau to the sharp mind of Will Genia and the ferrety nature of Michael Hooper, the Wallabies are not short on ‘X-Factor’ players.
Scotland have made numerous changes to their 23 as the new Head Coach adopts a mantra that suggests all will get an opportunity if merited. The pack is undoubtedly bolstered by the returns of Jonny Gray and Hamish Watson, with an all-Glasgow Warriors front row supplanting last Saturday’s Edinburgh triumvirate.
In the back division, Greig Tonks comes in at full-back to start a Test match for the first time since a World Cup warm-up in August 2015, and the wing berths are occupied by Rory Hughes and Lee Jones, the latter of whom was singled out for particular praise by Townsend after being named. Duncan Taylor wriggles to centre, joining Alex Dunbar outside the now tried and tested half-back partnership.
It has of course been well documented that Scotland have lost their past two matches with Australia by a point, but the relevance of that is diluted somewhat given where this meeting is taking place. The hosts looked brilliant in fits and starts when beating Fiji last week, but did look a tad cavalier at times and when the Fijians displayed any semblance of attacking cohesion, they managed to penetrate a suspect defence.
In order to be in with a shout of winning this one, Scotland will need to combine the ingenuity shown at times in Singapore with a defensive performance that shows almost no post-match deficiencies. The exciting second-row pairing of Gray and Ben Toolis can steal a march on an opposing duo that can call on a mere 24 caps between them, whilst the back-row will be looking to unnerve Australia’s newbie Ned Hanigan.
The hosts’ back line is sprinkled with genius but no more so than Scotland’s, especially considering the unknown qualities of Karmichael Hunt at centre and wing Eto Nabuli, who makes his debut.
As in any Test against a side ranked higher, Scotland will have to achieve parity in the early exchanges, try to cough up as few penalties as possible, and hope that the luck that seems to have deserted them against the same opponents in the past two years performs a full reversal. Win this, and ‘Toonie’ will have already achieved something his predecessor fell just short on.