SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Wallabies side boasting a semblance of stability faces a Scotland team taking its first steps under a new coach in a test that promises plenty of running rugby on Saturday.
Australia coach Michael Cheika has made just one enforced change to the side that ran in five tries to beat Fiji in Melbourne last weekend for the match at Sydney Football Stadium.
Debutant Eto Nabuli replaces the injured Henry Speight on the left wing in a straight swap of Fijian-born backs, whose combination of power and pace can trouble any defence.
Cheika’s desire to blood young players as he builds towards the 2019 World Cup along with a litany of injuries meant Australia rarely had a settled side in 2016.
With Karmichael Hunt getting a second run-out as an alternate playmaker at inside centre and Bernard Foley at flyhalf, Cheika will be looking to the duo to unleash the outside backs and put on something of a show.
He expects his forwards to face a sterner test in the tight from a gritty Scotland pack, however, especially with rain forecast for Saturday afternoon.
The match will be close if recent meetings between the two countries are anything to go by, with four of the last five clashes being decided by three points or fewer.
That sequence includes Australia’s 35-34 victory in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham, which was decided by a last minute Foley penalty contentiously awarded for offside by referee Craig Joubert.
A statue of Foley carved out of ice was unveiled at Australian training on Thursday as a reminder that the back dubbed “Iceman” also kicked a late conversion to secure a 23-22 win at Murrayfield last November.
The Scots were triumphant on their last visit to Australia in 2012, though, winning 9-6 in Newcastle in gale force winds and rain that rendered the contest a farce.
New coach Gregor Townsend, who is without British and Irish Lions Greig Laidlaw, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg, made eight changes to the side that also ran in five tries to beat Italy 34-13 in Singapore last weekend in his first match in charge.
The former test flyhalf completely overhauled his front row and back three, handing a first cap in five years to winger Lee Jones and a first in 20 months to fullback Greig Tonks.
Lock Jonny Gray and openside flanker Hamish Watson return to the pack, while hooker Ross Ford will win his 109th Scottish cap to equal Chris Paterson’s record, if he comes on from the bench.
“Australia are one of the best teams in the world, so this will be a much tougher challenge than our game last week,” Townsend said.
“It’s important that we take the game to Australia right from the start and are relentless in attack and defence for 80 minutes.”
Editing by John O'Brien