With nine losses in their last 12 test matches and down to No. 9 in the world ranking, the Wallabies are a fallen rugby power as they head into their end-of-season tour of the northern hemisphere where more pain could lie in store.
Scotland certainly won’t fear Australia in the first match of what is set to be a grueling five-test run in Europe for Dave Rennie’s team.
In a rare winning run against the powers from the southern hemisphere, Scotland has posted three straight victories over the Australians — including a 15-13 win at Murrayfield last autumn that preceded defeats for the Wallabies against England and Wales.
Since then, Australia has lost a series 2-1 to England Down Under in July and then won just two of its six games in the Rugby Championship.
Something needs to change as the countdown begins to next year’s Rugby World Cup — and there will be a big change against Scotland.
Michael Hooper, the team’s long-time flanker, is back in the team after missing the entire Rugby Championship because he was not in the right frame of mind to play. He had personal issues which meant he just wanted to be back with his family rather than be in Argentina, where the Australians were for their tournament opener.
“It’s recognizing that is OK and it’s part of the human experience to want to be somewhere else,” Hooper told reporters this week. “But duty calls for you to be in a certain place.”
“I’ve got high expectations for myself,” Hooper added in his first public comments on the matter since withdrawing from the squad in Mendoza, “and pulling out of a game is certainly right up there with something I couldn’t have seen myself doing. So, of course, it was hard.”
Hooper is back, but not as captain. That honor remained with prop James Slipper when the Wallabies lineup was announced Thursday — even if might not be for good.
“This is very much a fluid, moving thing,” Hooper said, “and the decision just felt quite natural in the end, to get on this tour and to not have the level of responsibility that I potentially had previously and to be able to focus on myself.”
Fullback Tom Banks also returned after recovering from a broken arm while scrumhalf Tate McDermott will earn his first international start of 2022. Lock Nick Frost will make just his second start for Australia and partners Cadeyrn Neville in the second row.
With the match falling outside World Rugby’s international window, Scotland’s team is made up entirely of Scottish-based players — meaning key players like Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris and Josh Bayliss were unavailable.
Among the reserves for Scotland is Jack Dempsey, a former Wallabies back-row forward who has switched allegiance under World Rugby’s birthright transfer rules thanks to having a Scottish grandfather.
The No. 8 has played for Glasgow Warriors since 2021 and last played for Australia at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Scotland’s defense coach, Steve Tandy, worked alongside Dempsey in Australia.
“These events are massive and for Jack it will be maybe a little bit bigger than normal, but he’s played in big games before, and I think his form has been outstanding,” Tandy said this week.
“With these boys now, they focus on their own performance and what they can control, and I’m sure Jack will be no different if he does have an opportunity.”
Scotland plays Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina later this autumn.
Scotland: Ollie Smith, Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie (captain), Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Zander Fagerson, Dave Cherry, Pierre Schoeman. Reserves: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Glen Young, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Ross Thompson, Damien Hoyland.
Australia: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Tom Wright, Bernard Foley, Tate McDermott; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Frost, Allan Alaalatoa, David Porecki, James Slipper (captain). Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Ned Hanigan, Pete Samu, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Jock Campbell.
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