Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v Fiji

Autumn Nations Series 2022: Scotland v Fiji

With the Test Window now open, Scotland’s Autumn Nations Series campaign continued at Murrayfield against Fiji. With Premiership players now available, the home team made a number of changes, and they found themselves temporarily a man up after just 80 seconds as Ratu Leone Rotuisolia was sent to the bin for not getting back 10 at a quick-tap penalty. With the man advantage, the home side looked to attack early, but Darcy Graham just ran out of room in the corner. Fiji may have managed to clear their lines but only to the edge of the 22, and the Scots’ pressure soon had them kicking a penalty to the corner, from which they mauled George Turner over for the opening try. A soft offside penalty gifted Fiji with an early chance at goal, but Setariki Tuicuvu pulled his kick wide. Back to 15 men, another penalty gave Fiji a lineout just outside the host’s 22, and after going through the phases, they got the ball wide to Tuicuvu, who was strong enough to stay infield espite Stuart Hogg’s tackle as he went over in the corner. Fiji had grown into the game—witht he help of Scottish indiscipline—and they went ahead early in the second quarter as Rotuisolia forced himself over from close range, while Stuart Hogg was also sent to the bin due to persistent offending from the hosts. With the man advantage, the visitors were on the attack again almost immediately, with Vinaya Habosi breaking down the left wing and only just being stopped by Adam Hastings, who escaped being penalised for a trip. The ill discipline continued from the Scots, who were forced to replace the injured George Turner with Ewan Ashman after half an hour, but a knock-on from Levani Botia at a ruck just short of the Scottish line allowed the hosts to clean their lines and get back to a full complement, while Fiji soon lost Kini Murimurivalu to injury, with Sireli Maqala coming on in his place. With just minutes left in the half, Darcy Graham was given a chance to score in the corner, only to fumble the ball as it reached him, however they had a scrum advantage between the posts, and when Adam Hastings wasn’t held by Kalaveti Ravouvou as the entire Fijian back line drifted too early, the Gloucester fly half went over for the try and kicked the conversion for a 14-12 lead at the break.

The Scots were forced to replace Hasting just minutes into the second half after he was rocked by a massive but legal hit from Rotuisolia, and the Scots were lucky not to concede just moments later a Levani Botia went over in the corner, only for the final pass to be called forward. And as Scotland got some possession and territory of their own, a wide pass from Chris Harris allowed Duhan van der Merwe to force his way over in the corner. Breaks from Graham and Richie Gray brought the Scots up to the line on their next attack of note, but Ewan Ashman was held up as he tried crashing over the line. Things got worse for Fiji just after the hour as Vinaya Habosi was sent to the bin for a swinging arm on Rory Sutherland. And with Fiji under heavy pressure, Scotland managed to earn a penalty beneath the posts with a dominant scrum and used the advantage to kick to the corner via Ben White, with Vilimoni Botitu just getting back to deny the ball reaching Darcy Graham. But the pressure continued and after Cam Redpath had a try disallowed for Jack Dempsey’s knock on at the back of the scrum, replacement prop Livai Natave was binned for a scrum offence just minutes after they returned to a full complement, and the next scrum saw Ben White scamper over unchallenged as he took advantage of wing Habosi filling in at flanker to avoid the scrum being pushed back over the line. As the game reached the final minute, a Scottish attack broke down, but Fiji’s counter was hampered illegally by Darcy Graham, who was sent to the bin, and though Scotland stole the lineout, they were turned over in their 22, only for Fiji to knock on with the clock in the red, denying them a late consolation as the game ended 28-12.


Adam Hastings will be desperately hoping that his Autumn Nations Series has not been brought to an early end, as his place in the Scotland squad is far from secured with a year until the World Cup. Go back a year or 2 and he was the clear back-up to Finn Russell, and a trusted starter in his own right. In the Six Nations, he found himself dropping behind Blair Kinghorn, while injury and playing in England left him unavailable for the Summer Tests and last week respectively. and in that Absence, Ross Thompson has now also come on the scene.

Today, his match was cut short following a massive hit from Rotuisolia, but even before that, he was not having things his own way. A couple of poor kicks ended promising opportunities, while even his try was more a matter of poor defence from the visitors than great play from Hastings.

Whether Russell is brought back into the squad or not, it is unlikely that Kinghorn doesn’t go to the World Cup due to his ability to also cover other positions. And with Stuart Hogg able to deputise at 10 in an emergency, Gregor Townsend may decide to only take 1 specialist 10 in the squad. Russell would be the obvious call, except that his relationship with Townsend looks strained (to put it lightly!). And if it comes down to Hastings v Thompson, while the former may have the greater experience, Thompson is playing and training with many of the squad on a weekly basis at club level.

As long as Russell remains out of the squad, the selection at 10 for Scotland will be one of the key points of interest.


Fiji have pace. Fiji have power. Fiji have incredible handling skills. All of that will take you a long way in rugby. But what Fiji really missed was a fly half. With Ben Volavola left out as he struggles for minutes at club level, and Fijian Drua 10 Teti Tela arriving in camp late after passport troubles, the team were left giving Vilimoni Botitu a first Test start at 10.

And as great a player as he is, he is not a natural 10, and it cost Fiji. Their kicking gamewas limited, as they didn’t get much length on their penalties to touch, and many open play kicks were able to be countered by the Scots. Also without a recognised kicker, it led to them struggling off of the tee, reducing their ability to fully penalise the Scots for their ill discipline.

While there is an incredible strength in depth at some positions for Tier 2 teams, especially the Pacific Island nations, it’s noticeable how few fly halves are coming through, and those that are often choose to push for a Tier 1 nation instead. And fly half is arguably one of the most important positions in Test rugby. Until these teams can get a capable 10, it’s going to be very difficult to consistently pick up victories over the Tier 1 nations.

Premiership Rugby 2021/22: 7 to Watch

Premiership Rugby 2021/22: 7 to Watch

With the newest season of the Premiership just weeks away, it’s that time of year again when I look at the all the Premiership teams and select 7 players new to their clubs this season who I think we should all be keeping an eye on. It’s safe to say that I’ve had mixed results in the past with my picks, but hopefully after a season off (sadly with the amateurish way the league was being ran in COVID and a number of loan moves just allowing Saracens to get a leg up on this season, I found myself not interested) I’ll find myself doing a bit better with my selections.

A quick reminder of the rules:

  • Players must be new transfers into the club. Academy graduates/short-term contracts from last year that have now signed longer permanent contracts/players who joined the club midway through last season/players returning from loans will not be included
  • Maximum 1 player per team, even if they have multiple players deserving of a spot on the list

So without further ado, let’s get on with the list…

Adam Hastings

The arrival of Danny Cipriani to Gloucester had a massive impact on the team. The pack were able to get on the front foot and the former England international had the skill and vision to unlock the backline, leading to the Cherry & Whites’ most successful season in years. Sadly a combination of injuries and issues in his private life, combined with less success from the Gloucester pack meant that the success was fleeting and after he was able to leave his contract early, Gloucester were left with Lloyd Evans and young George Barton as the team’s specialist 10s. Bringing in Hastings from Glasgow once again gives the team a top international quality 10 to unlock a team full of potent attacking threats, while his goal kicking percentages (an issue for many Gloucester kickers bar Barton in recent years) could be the difference in close games.

Huw Jones

Last year’s champions Harlequins are seeing quite a change of personnel in their midfield this summer, with centres James Lang, Michele Campagnaro and Ben Tapuai all on their way out, but Huw Jones arriving from Glasgow. Jones has had his ups and downs for both Glasgow and Scotland since arriving from South Africa, but is a real attacking talent who at his best can be a top tier 13. Combine him with Marcus Smith at 10 and with either Paul Lasike/André Esterhuizen drawing defenders’ attention at 12, and this could be the chance for Jones to thrive.

Marco van Staden

The Tigers have had a few down years but look to be getting back on track with the arrival of Steve Borthwick and a new exciting back line. What they need now is to secure the ball for said backs. And who better to help with that than Marco van Staden. The 26-year-old arrives from the Bulls off the back of a summer with the Springboks, where he has been showing his impact (literally) with some physical performances off the bench. Tigers fans are never going to turn down a big bruising forward, don’t be shocked to quickly see him become a fan favourite at Welford Road.

Mike Brown

While Nathan Earl was also a potential pick here, I’ve gone for Mike Brown as my new arrival in Newcastle. After 16 years at the club, Mike Brown was unceremoniously considered surplus to requirements at Quins, but rather than end his career as a one-club man, he has signed for the Falcons and will surely have a point to prove. A former England regular, Brown’s form in recent seasons has arguably been as good as (if not better than) when he was playing Test rugby. His experience, grit and determination will be great for young outside backs like Adam Radwan and Mateo Carreras to learn from.

Ruben de Haas

So this is maybe a bit of an outside pick as with former Wales international already at the club and 6-cap Springbok Ivan van Zyl also joining, de Haas’ game time may not be at the same level as many of the other players on this list. And yet the USA international (yes, Salarycens can still field 3 internationals at 1 position!) is a quality young player who has really impressed with the Eagles and certainly deserves his chance to play and learn in a top league.

Vaea Fifita

All Blacks coming over to the Premiership tend to fall into one of 2 categories: superstars or disappointments. Fifita certainly seems like a player with the potential to go either way. The former Hurricane looked to be the man to replace Jerome Kaino in the All Blacks’ 6 jersey when he was first capped, but never managed to secure the position and has dropped down the pecking order over the years. However, he is still a strong player who is a dangerous carrying option in the loose, while his ability to play either lock or flanker gives a degree of versatility to Wasps’ team selections.

Duhan van der Merwe

With plenty of handy players arriving at Sixways, a Worcester signing was always going to make this list, and the one who secured the spot was Duhan van der Merwe. Scotland’s South African-born winger has impressed in recent years for Edinburgh, and replicated his form for both Scotland and the British & Irish Lions. With great pace and incredible strength, van der Merwe will be a nightmare match-up for opposition wingers. Don’t be shocked to see him high up on the try-scoring charts come the end of the season.


Who would you put on this list?

This year, I will be running a predictions league for the Premiership on Superbru, and you are all invited! It’s free to enter and entirely for fun.

For those of you who have never done this before, each week you select who you think will win each match and by what margin (a draw is also an option) and you will be awarded points depending on how successful your predictions are.

Interested? You can join my league here or by downloading the Superbru app and searching for the pool with code densjest


Thanks for reading!

Scotland v Georgia

Scotland v Georgia

With the resumption of the Six Nations and the new Autumn Nations Cup just around the corner, Scotland looked to get a preparatory Test match under their belt in a deserted BT Murrayfield against Georgia. The conclusion of last season’s Pro14 and beginning of this season’s league meant that the Scots had a fair amount of rugby already under their belt and they were the quicker team out of the blocks as Darcy Graham took a quick-tap penalty and forced his way over for the opening try within 2 minutes. Though the Lelos produced very little in attack, their defence held relatively firm for the next 25 minutes, until a stupid penalty from prop Lekso Kaulashvili allowed Scotland to kick to the corner and drive over from 5m out, with Fraser Brown dotting down in his first match as captain. Scotland were growing into the game and their next try came shortly after, as Hamish Watson was sent over in the corner to make the score 17-0, while replacement back row Cornell du Preez was just held up over the line with the final play of the half.

The Georgians struck first after the break and scored their first ever try at Murrayfield through Akaki Tabutsadze, with fly half Tedo Abzhandadze adding the extras. Any hopes of a Georgian comeback were swiftly denied as Fraser Brown dotted down from another driving maul, while his replacement Stuart McInally scored in similar fashion as the game reached the hour mark. As the Lelos began to tire, the Scots began to run riot with a 10/12 combination of Finn Russell and Adam Hastings, and an inside pass put debutant Duhan van der Merwe through to score under the posts. With Georgia’s replacement scrum half in the bin for the final 10 minutes following a deliberate knock-on, Scotland found themselves with another 5m lineout, but rather than drive this one over, they drew in the Georgian pack to defend the maul before breaking off to the blind side, with McInally and George Horne putting Graham over for his second try. As the clock ticked down, Blair Kinghorn played a hopeful kick forward but his chase looked in vain until Giorgi Kveseladze misread the bouncing ball and saw it go through his legs, leaving Kinghorn with a simple finish, which Hastings converting for a final score of 48-7.

Rusty Lelos

While Scots had the benefit of the Pro14 to get back to match readiness ahead of this match, many of the Lelos were coming in having not played a game… and it really showed! Though their defence did a good job of holding out for the most part in open play, they were not able to cause any real problems for the attacking Scots and they were completely dominated by the Scottish catch and drive. Meanwhile, the Georgian attack only had 2 moments of note: 1 driving maul that earned a penalty and the Tabutsadze try. Aside from that, they struggled for most of the match to make any positive metres in attack – and when they did, they usually ended up getting turned over – and this led to Abzhandadze having to play from a deeper position, which stopped the backs having any real influence on the game.

With the French-based Lelos going back to their clubs next week, then games against England, Wales and Ireland on subsequent weekends (how these Autumn Nations Cup pools can be considered balanced is beyond me!), the Lelos are going to have to work very hard to get anything from their Autumn.

Russell/Hastings axis

While the scots looked OK in attack over the first 55 minutes, they really came to life when Finn Russell came off the bench to replace James Lang, with Adam Hastings moving out to inside centre.

There was an immediate impact to the Scottish attack, as the ball was being spread more often and quicker, while there also appeared to be more variety to the play, such as the inside pass that put van der Merwe through to score. With George Horne coming on to up the tempo at 9 and 2 talented playmakers, the back line really came alive and this is what the team needs with 2 wingers as talented as van der Merwe and Graham. Of course, Stuart Hogg would add a playmaker option from 15 when he is available, but not to the same degree as a Russell/Hastings 10/12 axis.

Scotland will definitely face harder tests than the Georgian defence, but I would definitely be interested to see how this playmaker axis would work against Tier 1 defences.

Faceless villain

Regular readers of my articles will know that I have a soft spot for Tier 2 nations and them being given the chance to compete against and develop into Tier 1 nations. So imagine my disappointment at the way this match has been handled by the media for the British public.

While it was great to see the game on free-to-air television, the ITV4 broadcast saw 2 Scottish pundits (Jim Hamilton and Sir Ian McGeechan) who were only ever going to speak about their own nation. Then when it came to the match, we were left with Simon Ward and former Scotland international Scott Hastings, who were quick to praise the Scots for doing even the most basic thing right and barely made an effort to talk about the Lelos.

Even going onto the BBC Sport website, there were no articles ahead of the game announcing the Georgian squad (just the Scots) and the article titled “What you need to know about the Georgians” included no information about their style of play or star players, instead focusing on a previous national anthem faux pas, a shooting at the union’s offices and the fact that the union is bankrolled by a billionaire. With such pathetic reporting, the casual fan is unable to learn anything about the team and they are left as basically a faceless villain for the British heroes to face, and nobody is then going to champion the cause of getting them regular rugby in Tier 1 competitions – let’s not forget that Georgia are only in the Autumn Nations Cup this season because Japan pulled out!

The Lelos deserve more respect than this from the British media, and I hope that there is more balance during the Autumn Nations Cup.