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New era dawns for Scots

Scotland against Fiji, Australia and Argentina
Scotland face Fiji, Australia and Argentina in their autumn series

By Jim Mason

New coach, new captain, new challenge.

For the first time in autumn Test history, Scotland will face three teams placed above them in the IRB world rankings.

The southern hemisphere triumvirate of Fiji, Australia and Argentina will ensure that Andy Robinson's first forays as head coach of the national team will test him and his coaching philosophy to the fullest extent.

Fiji will provide the initial challenge. The last Test encounter between the teams was in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia. Scotland won narrowly 22-20.

Since then, Fiji have matured into an established top-10 side. They've also had a successful summer, beating Tonga, Samoa and Japan.

The Scots will be wary of the Fijians and hoping to nullify any chance of Fiji being able to engineer attacks on a one-on-one basis.

Australia are next up. Previous results between the two leave little room for Scottish optimism. The last Scottish win over the Wallabies was in 1982 in Brisbane when the Scots won 12-7.

When you put that blue shirt on, you're going out there to win and to inspire a nation

Scotland head coach Andy Robinson

In the autumn Test series of 2006, the Australians came to Murrayfield and put five tries on the scoreboard in a 42-15 victory.

This year, the Australians have notched up one win in their last seven.

Admittedly, the matches have been against South Africa and New Zealand, but with the Aussies having a gruelling tour schedule of four matches against England, Ireland and Wales, Scotland will be hoping to exploit any weakness.

Apart from the first Test encounter between the sides in 1990, which Scotland won 49-3, games between the Scots and Argentina are extremely close and hard-fought affairs. On previous results, though, the advantage is with the Pumas.

They've won seven out of the last nine meetings. Encouragingly, from a Scottish point of view, the last match in Buenos Aires in 2008 saw the Scots win 26-14.

As well as world ranking points, both teams will be looking toward the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where they will play each other in the pool stage.

Robinson said: "When you put that blue shirt on, you're going out there to win and to inspire a nation."

Robinson has tough call to make

Well, if Robinson and his squad are, indeed, to inspire a nation then what will constitute a successful autumn Test series?

Given that these games are at Murrayfield, then surely the Scots will feel that wins against Argentina and Fiji are to be expected rather than hoped for.

There is the feel-good factor of a new coach on board, both pro teams have had reasonably successful starts to the season and there are Scots in the squad who are also featuring in the Guinness Premiership and in France.

This may not be the worst time to face Australia. Their season has been less than spectacular and Robinson is a man who firmly believes that the Scots are in charge of their own destiny.

So what of the team Robinson will send on to the Murrayfield pitch to face Fiji on the Saturday 14 November?

The head coach is big on combinations. At scrum-half, Scotland are blessed with a wealth of talent, with both Chris Cusiter and Mike Blair available and the former getting the nod to start against Fiji.

The omission of Dan Parks from the squad has opened the gate for Phil Godman to take the number 10 jersey.

Johnnie Beattie has had an excellent start to the season and comes in at number eight with Gloucester's Alasdair Strokosch alongside him in the back row.

This year we're going to have two captains, two world-class players

Scotland head coach Andy Robinson

In the back line, Scotland have a range of possibilities, but one man who has impressed greatly this year is Glasgow centre Graeme Morrison.

If you were looking at keywords in an Andy Robinson interview, leadership would feature highly.

The head coach is insistent that he wants to create leaders among his players. No surprise then that Robinson has announced a dual captaincy for the autumn Tests.

Edinburgh captain Blair and Glasgow Warriors skipper Cusiter will vie for the sole scrum-half position and the right to wear the armband.

Robinson said: "This year we're going to have two captains, two world-class players.

"Leadership is not about one person, it is about developing a number of leaders. Whichever one is selected will lead the team. But, off the pitch, the two will lead the team together."

Whether Cusiter and Blair lead the team to success will be evident only after the final whistle against Argentina.

But there is no doubt that this Scotland side will be hoping that the autumn Test series will re-launch Scotland as a major power in world rugby and complete Robinson's rehabilitation as a top-flight international coach.

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see also
Cusiter leads Scots against Fiji
09 Nov 09 |  Scottish
Scots duo relish shared captaincy
06 Nov 09 |  Scottish
Mortlock to miss Australia tour
06 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Blair and Cusiter share captaincy
02 Nov 09 |  Scottish
Grove stunned by Scotland call up
30 Oct 09 |  Worcester

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