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Injury-hit Scotland picks three more for 4 Nation tournament

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The Canadian Press
6/13/2013 9:55:21 AM
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NELSPRUIT, South Africa -- Without its British and Irish Lions and further hampered by a raft of injuries, Scotland is finding the four-nation tournament in South Africa a stern test of its depth and grit ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

Having lost to Samoa, one of its pool opponents at the World Cup, in a bruising battle last weekend, the Scots face a typically muscular Springbok forward pack in the next round of games on Saturday. South Africa, Samoa and Scotland all will be in the same group in England in 2015.

Forced to make seven changes to its starting lineup, Scotland must find the physicality it lacked in its first-ever test loss to Samoa if it is to compete against the No. 2-ranked South Africa, interim coach Scott Johnson said.

"You're up against the second best team in the world that prides itself on its physicality," Johnson said after Saturday's 27-17 defeat to Samoa in Durban. "So, you don't have to be any mathematician or Rhodes Scholar to work out what we need to improve. And we've got to acknowledge that.

"They won't be running away from that fact and I won't hide from that fact. Test footy is usually won by the side that is most clinical in that area, the collision."

While Scotland will give three more players their first caps after fielding six debutants against Samoa, South Africa is seeking continuity after a 44-10 win over Italy to start its season.

The Springboks have made two enforced changes, with experienced scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar in for the injured Jano Vermaak and flanker Marcell Coetzee replacing openside Francois Louw, who gets married on Sunday. Coetzee's inclusion for Louw will add even more weight to the Springboks forwards.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer also has rebranded his backline, with newcomers JJ Engelbrecht, Willie le Roux and Bjorn Basson adding pace to the experience of centre Jean de Villiers and prolific wing Bryan Habana.

"I'm very excited about those backs. They've showed some great patches and if they can build on that, I think we'll have an awesome backline, exciting to watch," Meyer said.

South Africa, with its forward power and backline speed, will aim to launch attacks on two fronts against Scotland at Mbombela Stadium as it warms up for the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

Scotland, however, is struggling badly with injuries, with captain Kelly Brown and flyhalf Tom Heathcote out and three front-rowers -- props Geoff Cross and Ryan Grant and hooker Pat MacArthur -- also unavailable. Cross and MacArthur have left the tour with injuries, while Grant was called up to the Lions in Australia. Scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw will captain the Scots for the first time and nine of Scotland's 23 to face the Springboks have less than 10 caps.

"I'd said from before we left Scotland that we wanted to find out about players through this tour and, perhaps, because of circumstances, some of that is being accelerated," Johnson said.

In Saturday's first game, and the first rugby test at Nelspruit's 2010 football World Cup stadium, a buoyant Samoa will face Italy, which lost 44-10 to South Africa in the opening round of the three-week, four-team tournament.

Samoa combined its free-flowing attacking game with physicality up front to beat Scotland, while Italy's confidence following a strong Six Nations showing was dented in a subdued performance against South Africa.

The winner of that tussle will likely earn the right to face South Africa in the tournament final at Loftus Versfeld, with the Samoans best-placed in the mini league standings for a rare shot at the Springboks two years out from the World Cup.

"It is something that we always set out to do, to play the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Especially South Africa in South Africa," Samoa coach Stephen Betham said. "We'd love to play them (South Africa) but we still have Italy. We've put that (a game against South Africa) on the back burner."

Kelly Brown (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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