Scotland list two new caps and the return of two British Lions in their team to play New Zealand in Rugby World Cup Pool C at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Prop Alasdair Dickinson and flanker John Barclay are the debutants in a team led by Scotland’s most-capped player Scott Murray, who captains his country for the first time in three years.
His fellow Lion, Chris Cusiter, is back at scrum-half, while experienced centre Andrew Henderson returns after the leg injury that prevented him playing against Portugal and South Africa.
In all, head coach Frank Hadden has opted for a fresh starting XV with only Chris Paterson and Simon Webster remaining from the team that started the 42-0 win against Romania three days ago, albeit both change positions with Paterson now at stand-off and Webster on the wing.
Hadden acknowledged that the selection for this match ““ and the game against Italy six days thereafter ““ had exercised his mind for several months.
“I utterly reject the notion that this is a second-string, weakened or reserve Scotland team given that it contains the best place-kicker in world rugby, two British Lions, one of whom is Scotland’s most-capped player, two of our most-respected and exciting backs; arguably the player who made the biggest impact in the 2006 Autumn Tests and other players who have beaten South Africa, France, England Ireland and Wales in the international arena, combined with some fresh young talent.
“We have a squad of 30 highly professional, dedicated quality players and we compete in this tournament as a squad. Our mission has always been to qualify from the group stages and press on from there.
“The schedule we are being asked to fulfil by RWC involves us playing three games in 11 days. International rugby is a huge physical challenge and our aspirations are to progress as far as we can in this tournament and that has to be the over-riding priority in our selection for the games against New Zealand and Italy.
“We believe to get the best outcome for Scotland over the next two games that it’s absolutely vital we play the freshest possible squad this weekend and the freshest possible squad against Italy.
“Had the Portugal and Romania games also fallen like Romania and New Zealand just five days apart we would have done exactly the same thing.”
The new caps Alasdair Dickinson and John Barclay both spoke enthusiastically about their call-ups.
Dickinson said: “It’s pretty amazing to be playing on Sunday. I never really thought I’d be involved, especially after missing out on a place in the World Cup squad in the first place. I watched Scotland’s opening World Cup game sitting in my flat in Cheltenham and now I’m facing the All Blacks so it’s been quite a sharp turnaround.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up about getting a game during the tournament so I just concentrated on each day, trained as hard as I can, and now my opportunity has come along so I’m very happy.”
Barclay, who was a school pupil at Dollar Academy during the last World Cup in 2003 and who celebrates his 21st birthday on Monday said: “It doesn’t get much bigger than this, does it! Not just playing New Zealand, but to be up against the guy who is meant to be the best in my position in the world as well. It’ll be hard but I’ll go at it all guns blazing.
“It’ll be really good to win my first cap at a sold-out Murrayfield and it means my
family can be here to see me play. It’s frustrating training when you are not playing but Frank spoke to me and told me not to worry and that my chance would come. My chance has now come and I’m looking forward to what will be the biggest game of my life.”
Henderson, returning to win his 47th cap, following a man of the match try hat-trick performance during the Bank of Scotland Corporate August Tests, said: “My leg feels a lot better and I’m excited that I’m finally getting started in the World Cup. It’s been frustrating having to watch games. I’ve tried not to think about getting back too much and just concentrate on my rehab.
“The physios, masseur and doctors have been great, keeping me really busy in France, and that has kept my mind off the injury and stopped me moping around. I will be looking to play my best and hopefully get some more game time during the World Cup.”
15 Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh)
14 Nikki Walker (Ospreys)
13 Marcus Di Rollo (Toulouse)
12 Andrew Henderson (Glasgow Warriors)
11 Simon Webster (Edinburgh)
10 Chris Paterson (Gloucester)
9 Chris Cusiter (Perpignan)*
1 Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester)*
2 Scott Lawson (Sale Sharks)*
3 Craig Smith (Edinburgh)
4 Scott MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets)
5 Scott Murray (unattached) CAPTAIN
6 Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors)*
8 Dave Callam (Edinburgh)*
7 John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)*
16 Fergus Thomson (Glasgow Warriors)*
17 Gavin Kerr (Edinburgh)
18 James Hamilton (Leicester)
19 Allister Hogg (Edinburgh)*
20 Rory Lawson (Gloucester)*
21 Dan Parks (Glasgow Warriors)
22 Rob Dewey (Ulster)