Duncan Weir, the 21-year-old Glasgow Warriors stand-off, will make his first start for Scotland in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations Championship match against Wales at Murrayfield.
Weir, whose three previous caps have been won from the bench, replaces his clubmate Ruaridh Jackson in the pivotal position. It’s a big call from Scott Johnson but one that was refreshingly made on merit as Weir has ridden his excellent club form into the national team. He looked sharper and tougher in his cameo against Ireland, and he’ll also be able to concentrate on running the game with Laidlaw taking the pressure off at kicking time. His big boot offers a better alternative for touch-finders and long penalties too, and perhaps his tactical abilities were the key to his selection opposite a Welsh back division that will thrive on ill-judged kicks and gifted possession.
The other change to the initial line-up from the team that defeated Ireland is Euan Murray who returns to the tighthead berth with Geoff Cross perhaps unlucky to be moving to the bench. Murray has been brought in to anchor the scrum against a proficient Welsh unit and may yet surprise us again in the loose. Cross can add impact from the bench while the Welsh are without Gethin Jenkins.
Ryan Wilson, the 23-year-old Glasgow Warriors No 8 who has led his club on three occasions this season and who was captain and man of the match in Scotland A’s victory over England Saxons last month, is introduced to a match-day 23 for the first time as David Denton drops out through injury. Denton sustained a knee injury when playing for Edinburgh Rugby against Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12 at the weekend, a game in which he looked frustrated at times and the struggling capital side lost – by just a point. It is a just reward for Wilson who has been playing far beyond his years whilst captaining a Glasgow side that are quite frankly on fire.
Scotland interim head coach Scott Johnson said: “Selection is tough just now but that’s a good thing as we increase competition for places.
“Duncan did well when he came on against Ireland and he got some decent game time for Glasgow at the weekend. He’s a talent with a really good work ethic and a thirst to improve, which I like a lot.
“Ruaridh remains a key part of our squad but he knows with Tom Heathcote proving a match-winner for Bath and kicking goals from here, there and everywhere, that he needs to up his game too.
“Geoff (Cross) was a standout against Ireland and it’s up to Euan, who fronted up big time against Italy, to raise the bar again.
“Wales will be going for their fifth successive away victory in the championship and that would be a record for them but our focus is on ensuring we win the contact zone, continue to improve and make it three wins on the bounce.”
Scotland team to play Wales in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at Murrayfield on Saturday 9 March (kick-off 2.30pm): Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Robert Harley, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie Replacements: Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, Ryan Wilson, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans
Unavailable through injury: Chris Cusiter and Chris Fusaro (both Glasgow Warriors), David Denton, Grant Gilchrist and Ross Rennie (all Edinburgh Rugby)
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Blues); Alex Cuthbert (Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Blues), George North (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Paul James (Bath), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (capt, Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons)
Replacements: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Scott Andrews (Blues), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Blues), James Hook, Scott Williams (Scarlets).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa). Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand) and Lourens Van Der Merwe (South Africa). TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy).