Scotland’s injury problems cleared ahead of its Rugby World Cup game against Samoa, allowing flyhalf Finn Russell, fullback Stuart Hogg and flanker John Hardie to return to the starting team.
Russell, who is vital to the team’s attacking game plan, is back after missing the 34-16 loss to South Africa with a sprained ankle, while Hogg – Scotland’s most dangerous broken-field runner – is fit after hobbling off against the Springboks.
In the forwards, Hardie passed stringent protocols after a head knock after missing the last two Pool B games. Hooker Ross Ford and centre Matt Scott were also selected for Saturday’s game in Newcastle after being doubtful starters because of concussions.
It means Scotland coach Vern Cotter was able to pick his strongest available lineup for a game the Scots probably need to win to secure second place behind South Africa and a quarter-final against the winner of Saturday’s clash between Australia and Wales.
There are expected to be an estimated 100,000 Scots in the northern city of Newcastle – which is close to the Scottish border – for this weekend.
“We are playing the game as a qualifying game,” Cotter said.
Samoa, which is out of contention for the quarter-finals following a loss to Japan on Saturday, is renowned for its physical style of play.
Winger Alesana Tuilagi is suspended for the game after receiving a five-week ban for striking a Japanese player with his knee, while forward Faifili Levave was cited for playing an opponent without the ball but avoided further punishment and is available for Saturday.
Samoa coach Stephen Betham on Thursday said his team, as well as Tonga and Fiji, had been “tainted” this tournament because of their reputation for being overly physical.
“We were warned (about Pacific Islanders’ indiscipline in previous World Cups) at the start,” Betham said.
“It’s unfortunate that’s the way we are seen. But it’s not an excuse.”
Samoa will be without captain Ofisa Treviranus, who has an ankle injury.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); David Denton, John Hardie, Ryan Wilson, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, WP Nel, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh, Tim Swinson, Josh Strauss, Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne, Sean Lamont.
Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams, Paul Perez, George Pisi, Rey Lee-Lo, Fa’atoina Autagavaia, Tusi Pisi, Kahn Fotuali’i; Alafoti Fa’osiliva, Jack Lam, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Kane Thompson, Teofilo Paulo, Census Johnston, Manu Leiataua, Sakaria Taulafo. Reserves: Motu Matu’u, Viliamu Afatia, Anthony Perenise, Faifili Levave, Vavae Tuilagi, Vavao Afemai, Patrick Fa’apale, Ken Pisi.