Scotland to hand Skinner Test debut
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner is set to make his Test debut after he was today named in Scotland’s line-up for this Saturday’s Autumn Test against Fiji at BT Murrayfield Stadium (kick-off 2.30pm).
The former University of Exeter student is one of nine changes Head Coach Gregor Townsend has made following last Saturday’s defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
It marks a remarkable rise for the 23-year-old forward, who made his debut for the Chiefs three years ago in an LV= Cup tie against Gloucester. Since then, he has developed year on year, and was part of last season’s Exeter side that reached their third successive Premiership Final.
Although Skinner has featured in the past for England Under-20s, it’s through his father Peter that Scotland saw the opportunity to offer the Exeter-born forward his shot at playing at full international level.
Alongside Skinner, the Scots also welcome back star full-back Stuart Hogg, who has been absent from competitive action since having surgery on an ankle injury he sustained in September, while representing his club in the Guinness PRO14.
Also in from the outset in Edinburgh will be half-backs Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) and Finn Russell (Racing 92), as well as wing Sean Maitland (Saracens), are also set to start.
It will be Laidlaw's first Scotland outing since kicking the match-winning penalty against Italy in the Six Nations earlier this year, securing a third-placed Championship finish for the visitors in Rome.
Glasgow Warriors duo Alex Dunbar and Tommy Seymour return to start in the backs, while Pete Horne is promoted from last week’s bench in Cardiff to partner fellow Warrior Dunbar in midfield.
Debutant Skinner is one of four changes to the pack, with hooker Fraser Brown, lock Grant Gilchrist and number 8 Matt Fagerson promoted from last week’s bench, while props Allan Dell and Willem Nel, and back-row forwards Ryan Wilson and Jamie Ritchie, are all reinstated.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend, said: “It’s a more experienced side this week in terms of time together at this level, while we’ve rewarded some of those who performed well off the bench with the chance to start.
“We’ve had a good week in training with a slightly different focus for the challenges we expect Fiji to present this Saturday. In particular, they pose huge threats off turnover ball, utilising some of the best individual players, one-on-one, in the world.
“They score more tries than any team in the world off turnover ball, about 66%, whereas most teams are under about 10 or 15%, so if you repeatedly give them turnover ball it’ll be a tough afternoon.
“That presents us with an opportunity to consider different approaches tactically and use different strategies to apply pressure in front of our home support. Our pack will have to work exceptionally hard against a very physical Fijian side and our backs will have to be alert to opportunities as a consequence of that work.
“We have to be physical and accurate, play to our strengths and put them under pressure in areas they don’t want to go into, to make sure the game is open for us but not for them.”
Scotland Team to Play Fiji
15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – 62 caps
14. Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) – 44 caps
13. Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – 29 caps
12. Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 36 caps
11. Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 34 caps
10. Finn Russell (Racing 92) – 37 caps
9. Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne, Capt) – 63 caps
1. Allan Dell (Edinburgh) – 14 caps
2. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 35 caps
3. Willem Nel (Edinburgh) – 23 caps
4. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) – uncapped
5. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) – 26 caps
6. Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) – 38 caps
7. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh) – 3 caps
8. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 2 caps
16. Stuart McInally (Edinburgh) – 19 caps
17. Alex Allan (Glasgow Warriors) – 5 caps
18. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) – 11 caps
19. Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – 44 caps
20. Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks) – 14 caps
21. George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 3 caps
22. Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) – 4 caps
23. Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) – 4 caps