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End remains the same but might it be time to question the means?

He probably needed no reminders, but Samoa's 26-19 victory over Wales in the Millennium Stadium last Friday was still a timely nudge for Andy Robinson, Scotland's head coach, on the dangers of taking Pacific nations too lightly.

Henry Pyrgos may start at scrum-half after impressing against South Africa. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Henry Pyrgos may start at scrum-half after impressing against South Africa. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Early this afternoon, Robinson will name his side to face Tonga at Pittodrie on Saturday, and the indications are that there will be no radical departures from the pattern of recent selections. After watching his team lose 22-51 to New Zealand 10 days ago, the coach made just two changes ahead of last Saturday's meeting with South Africa: John Barclay returning on account of the injury sustained by Al Strokosch and Euan Murray taking over from Geoff Cross after sitting out the All Blacks game on religious grounds. Today's choice is likely to be equally conservative.

To some extent, that strategy is a tribute to a Tongan side who are perfectly capable of giving supposedly stronger sides a serious fright. At the last World Cup, Tonga pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the tournament's history when they beat eventual finalists France 19-14, and they were only narrowly beaten, 28-23, by a full-strength Italy side in Brescia two weeks ago.

However, Robinson's likely caution may also be a reflection of his reluctance to sound alarm bells after back-to-back losses against what were, after all, the best two sides on the planet. In detail, the losses to New Zealand and South Africa raised a number of questions – tackling, finishing and discipline being at the top of the list – but neither was exactly unexpected.

In which light, it is not difficult to defend a policy of giving votes of confidence to players who succeeded, far more than many other Scottish sides of the past at least, to put the southern hemisphere giants under pressure for extended periods of those games. By the same token, in rewarding failure, however understandable, Robinson is likely to hammer home the message that victory is a non-negotiable in Saturday's match in Aberdeen.

Certainly there should be players in the side that started against South Africa last weekend whose places have to be in doubt. At a level of the game where lineout possession is the fundamental upon which almost every other tactic and plan relies, Ross Ford's recent work has been alarmingly short of what is required. Ford has the get-out clause of imminent fatherhood, and Robinson may decide that the Edinburgh hooker could do without the distraction of starting yet another Test match this week.

The indications are that both Strokosch and Richie Gray should be able to resume their places after suffering leg and head injuries respectively. Tom Ryder's return to Glasgow suggests that Gray is expected to be fit, although it is by no means certain that Robinson will simply pick the same combination of Gray and Hamilton that started against the Springboks.

Hamilton looked laboured in that game and, with World Cup seedings no longer at stake, the option of giving a first cap to Edinburgh's Grant Gilchrist is available to Robinson. That factor could also persuade the coach to give a debut to Stuart McInally as well, not least because he has a proven ability to cover all three back row positions.

But how bold could Robinson be behind the scrum? As much as he will want to show faith in most of his players, the fact the game is now no more than friendly does allow him the luxury to experiment.

There are strong suggestions that Henry Pyrgos, with two appearances as a replacement and one international try to his name, could be given the nod at scrum-half, while Tom Heathcote, the Bath fly-half who was unexpectedly added to the squad on Monday, is almost certainly not there just to make up numbers. With Ruaridh Jackson also now back at Glasgow – and baring the possibility of Matt Scott making a dramatic return to the berth where he first caught the eye with Currie – Heathcote is the only specialist playmaker available as backup to Greig Laidlaw.

Scott has made a generally favourable impact at inside-centre in his handful of games for Scotland. Nick De Luca, his club partner, has put in a couple of decent shifts over the past two games as well, but Robinson may just be tempted to bring Stuart Hogg into the midfield equation, giving him an outing in the 13 slot that Sean Lineen, the former Glasgow coach, believes could be his best position in the long run.

A change there would, in turn, open the door for Peter Murchie, an unused replacement against the Springboks, to make his first Scotland appearance. Murchie has been in excellent form for Glasgow, with his strength under the high ball identified by Robinson as a particularly significant attribute.

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