After a long injury lay-off, talented centre Mark Bennett returns to the Scotland under-20 set up as they seek their first win in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
The 19 year old from Ayr, who signed for French Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne at the start of least season, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in August but has battled his way back to fitness over in France and will start against Ireland under-20 at Dubarry Park, Athlone on Friday, March 9 (kick-off 7.05pm).
Bennett started his first game in more than six months at the weekend, scoring a try in a win for Clermont under-20s against Lyon.
Having played in the national under-20 set up during last year’s IRB Junior World Cup, Bennett provides plenty of experience for head coach, Peter Wright:
He said: “Mark’s been out for the whole season pretty much but he played on Sunday and he’s come through that game really well. He really strengthens the side and brings something a bit extra to it.
“His involvement with the under-20s at the World Cup last year means he knows the guys and he’s an easy going lad and a good team player. I’ve no concerns at all that he can fit right in with a settled group.
Bennett’s inclusion means Tommy Allan of Western Province moves to full back. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is back with Scotland 7s ahead of their visit to Hong Kong at the end of the month.
Osprey’s Matt Torrance keeps his starting berth at scrum half with Edinburgh Rugby’s Harry Leonard and Finn Russell, of Falkirk, keeping their 10 and 12 positions respectively. Leonard had a brief spell off the bench for Edinburgh in their disappointing loss to Ulster last Friday where he played 12 outside Phil Godman, but he will be looking to press a case for inclusion in Michael Bradley’s Heineken Cup plans after impressing early in the campaign.
In the pack, Edinburgh Rugby’s Elite Development Player Robin “Bomber” Hislop returns to the international set-up at prop, with George Turner (Edinburgh Rugby/Stewart’s Melville) retaining his place at hooker with Alex Allan (Loughborough Students) also back in the front-row from the start.
Dundee HSFP second row Andrew Redmayne earns his first start of this year’s championship, with Stirling County’s Adam Sinclair moving to the bench.
Peter Wright’s charges have tasted defeat in their opening three games of the championship so far but each outing has seen improvement. Wright added:
“For me, this is one of the hardest games of the championship. Ireland are a very strong side, they are at home and they are aiming for a Grand Slam, that’s a big challenge for us.
“But barring Scott Steele, who is staying with his club (Leicester Tigers) we have strength and depth through the first XV and into the subs.
“We have guys who can come off the bench and make a real difference, guys that can change the game. That’s a really good sign of the strength of the squad.”
Scotland under-20 team to face Ireland under-20: 15. Tommy Allan (Western Province), 14. Jamie Farndale (Edinburgh Rugby/Edinburgh Accies), 13. Mark Bennett (Clermont Auvergne), 12. Finn Russell (Falkirk), 11. Michael Crawley (Boroughmuir), 10. Harry Leonard (Edinburgh Rugby) (Capt.), 9. Matt Torrance (Ospreys); 1. Robin Hislop (Edinburgh Rugby), 2.George Turner (Edinburgh Rugby/Stewart’s Melville), 3. Alex Allan (Loughborough Students), 4. Andrew Redmayne (Dundee HSFP), 5. Jonny Gray (Hamilton), 6. Mitch Eadie (Bristol Rugby), 7. Will Bordill (Sale Sharks), 8. Jamie Swanson (Boroughmuir)
Replacements: Russell Anderson (Gala), Gavin Robertson (Dundee HSFP), Adam Sinclair (Stirling County), Callum Reid (Edinburgh Accies), Jamie Bhatti (Stirling County), Murray McConnell (Glasgow Warriors/Ayr), Tom Steven (Glasgow Hawks), Robbie Fergusson (Ayr)
Ireland under-20s v Scotland under-20s on Friday, 9 March, Dubarry Park, Athlone (kick-off 7.05pm). For match updates, follow @ScotlandTeam on Twitter.