Gregor Townsend announced a fairly familiar looking matchday squad to face Ireland on Sunday with only a few eyebrows raised at his selections on the bench.
After being recalled to the squad for the first time in this Six Nations Championship, Exeter forward Sam Skinner has headed back down the road to start for his club tomorrow, having been unable to usurp any of the loose five forwards from the starting line-up.
His versatility at being able to cover jerseys 4-6, and potentially 8, may have made him a handy replacement option, however Townsend has instead opted for Edinburgh pair Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining on the bench.
“A number of factors have gone into selection. Form, would be one; what they’ve done for the team in past, and also who what opposition we’re up against this weekend, so that’s why Grant and Nick got the nod over Sam and others that were in the mix.
“We’ve got good competition there, it’s the first time we’ve brought Sam in for the Six Nations squad and one of the reasons is because he’s very close to the 23. We’ve not called up that many English-based players throughout this period unless they were in the mix for the 23. Sam’s aware of that and he’s just got to build on his performances and see where we stand next week.”
With Zander Fagerson suspended, WP Nel replaces him as starting tighthead prop and Jamie Ritchie also returns to the pack after missing the defeat to Wales through injury to once again team up with Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson in the back-row.
While Cameron Repdath still recovers from the neck injury sustained in his scintillating debut against England, Sam Johnson replaces James Lang at inside centre, and Sean Maitland’s particular set of skills sees him start on the right-wing against fellow resident-Kiwi James Lowe.
Maitland takes over from Darcy Graham who wears the number 23 jersey, and the previous incumbent of that – Huw Jones – wears number 22 meaning there is no recognised fly-half replacement on the bench.
Townsend confirmed that in the most unfortunate event of Finn Russell going down, Stuart Hogg would be asked to move into the 10 jersey.
“Hoggy played there for about 30mins against Wales in the Autumn, and when we played Ireland in the final fixture of the Autumn Nations Cup, Jaco van der Walt started and we didn’t have fly-half cover on the bench, so Stuart was due to cover that position if required.
“We feel where Stuart is just now, getting him on the ball more would be a positive thing. He’s our captain, so going into 10 as an attack-leader; a team leader; would be something that flows naturally.” Theoretically, it means that if Hogg moves to 10 both Graham and Jones would be able to move it in at 15 – or even Maitland, with Graham more likely to cover the wing – so versatility and serious pace is available were the craft and guile of Russell to be lost. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (c), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson,
Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson
Replacements: Jamie Bhatti, David Cherry, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Huw Jones, Darcy Graham