WHEN a team look rusty but perform positively in many ways, a coach’s first instinct is to give them another run-out as soon as possible. But by the same token, when some key players become available after missing a match, any coach would at least give serious consideration to bringing them straight back into the side.

That is the balancing act that Gregor Townsend faces this week after seeing his Scotland team lose 16-15 to Australia on Saturday. It was a match that might well have been won, and while aspects of the game such as discipline clearly need work, other areas functioned well.

That was the case for individuals as well as for the side as a whole. For example, Sione Tuipulotu dropped a long pass with the line apparently at his mercy, but was also a highly effective ball-carrier in midfield.

Similarly, Blair Kinghorn missed the last-minute penalty that would have won the match, but created his own try out of next to nothing and arguably orchestrated the attack more effectively than in any of his previous appearances for his country.

Fiji, who are next up at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, will present a physical challenge at least as fierce as the one offered by the Wallabies. But Scotland will start as favourites to win by a fair margin, and that fact plays in favour of Townsend showing faith in some of his less experienced players.

Still, as the head coach himself pointed out, selection for this week’s match cannot merely be predicated on who played well last time out. It also has to take into account past performances, as well as the fact that there are two more games in the Autumn Nations Series – against the All Blacks, then Argentina,

“It’ll be difficult [to drop players],” Townsend said after the Wallabies defeat. “But it will also be difficult not including players who’ve played very well for us and are in good form, so that’s the dilemma we’ll have over the next few days.

“There are players, like Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris, who are in our squad and have been regular starters for us. So we’ll have to look at what team we want to put out, what continuity and cohesion we want to have following this performance, because we were going to be rusty, because it’s a brand new team. But it’s likely to be a new team again next week. How many changes? We’ll see over the next few days.”

The two players named by Townsend are surely uppermost in his mind. When announcing Jamie Ritchie as his new captain, the coach said he wanted former skipper Hogg to play unburdened by extraneous responsibilities. The Exeter full-back can only do that if he does actually play, so expect him to take over from Ollie Smith.

Harris, meanwhile, has been Scotland’s key defensive organiser for some time. It was not immediately obvious to everyone why Townsend was so keen on the outside centre, but over the past two seasons the penny has dropped. So Mark Bennett is likely to relinquish the No.13 jersey to the Gloucester player.

Those may be the only two changes in the back division, and Townsend may also restrict himself to just two alterations up front. Sam Skinner injured a foot in the first half against Australia and was in a protective boot after the match. There has been no word on how long the Edinburgh lock will be out for, but it is probable that Jonny Gray will take his place and partner Grant Gilchrist in the second row. Townsend’s other options would be either Richie Gray, should he complete his return-to-play protocols following a head injury, or Glen Young, who replaced Skinner at the weekend and was yellow-carded in the second half.

In the back row, having decided that Jack Dempsey should not start his first match for Scotland against his former team, Townsend could opt to put the Glasgow player ahead of Matt Fagerson this time. And on the bench, Adam Hastings may come in as back-up stand-off for Ross Thompson, who has played little rugby this season and was the only unused replacement on Saturday.

Thompson was actually set to come on in the closing minutes, but Townsend explained that would have been instead of Smith, who was feeling a tight calf, not Kinghorn, who would have remained on kicking duties.

“We back Blair,” he said. “We’ve seen him kick in training, we saw him kick really well in the third Test in Argentina from long range in a hostile environment. And it’s often not easy for a guy coming on to make his first kick.”

Scotland beat the Fijians 54-17 when the teams last met at Murrayfield in 2018, but Townsend is well aware of the threat the visitors will pose if his team fail to impose their own structure on the game.

“They’re a very dangerous side and a very physical side,” he said. “In the last four to five years we’ve lost over in Fiji [27-22 in 2017] and we’ve had a good win at home. Their physicality and their rugby-playing ability make them a dangerous team to play against.

“Fiji haven’t played much rugby. They played three games in the summer. They’ve got a different squad. We just have to make sure our game is in place.”