Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made six changes to the starting XV that faced France, with perhaps the most surprise omission being that of openside flanker Hamish Watson.
“Hamish Watson is fine. We’re just looking at other combinations and giving other people opportunities.
Hamish has played really well throughout this campaign. He has started every game and trained at a high level. Like any player, he’ll be frustrated that he’s missing out this week but it’s nothing to do with performance – he’s been one of our best players.”
Watson’s place at openside will be taken by clubmate Jamie Ritchie, whose positional shift opens up a starting spot for Blade Thomson with Matt Fagerson continuing at the back of the pack. Possible replacements off the bench are Sam Skinner – although it’s more likely he’ll come on at lock in place of Jonny Gray or Scott Cummings – and 34-year old warhorse Blair Cowan, included for the first time since 2016 before Townsend had taken the reins.
Rory Sutherland returns from his ankle injury at loosehead to pack down alongside Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson, who regains his starting jersey from Simon Berghan.
Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt becomes the latest SpringJock recruit, and with no recognised stand-off on the bench, Townsend confirmed that Stuart Hogg will be the back-up option there should anything befall the recently married man from Randfontein.
“I think just getting used to playing international rugby will be a great experience for him” said Townsend.
“This year and last year he’s taken his game to another level. Defensively, he must be one of the best tackling stand-offs in world rugby.
His passing and kicking are at a high level and he’ll be looking at ways to best influence the defence. It will just be that little bit quicker at international level but we have a real belief and faith in his ability and in those around him to bring the best out of backline this weekend.”
Alongside van der Walt at inside centre, “Super Dunc”, Duncan Taylor replaces Sam Johnson, and on the wing Darcy Graham replaces Blair Kinghorn who broke his finger against France.
“We believe this is a strong team. Players have high energy levels because they didn’t play last week and they are desperate to make the most of this opportunity.
“We started 2020 playing in Dublin and had a few opportunities to win that game and to score tries. We got turned over five times in the Irish 22, which is unusual and a credit to their defemce, but we know if we’d taken those opportunities it would have been a different scoreline. There’s a lot of rugby still to be played before we take on England in February, and we haven’t played that much rugby since the restart, whether at club or international level, so this would leave a good impression if they played well as individuals, if the team performed well as a collective, but there will be many more opportunities to put their hands up for selection come Six Nations time.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Duncan Taylor, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt,
Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie,
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Sam Skinner,
Blair Cowan, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Huw Jones, Sean Maitland