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Gregor Townsend rings changes for Scotland in Six Nations opener

Gregor Townsend

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has announced his team to play Ireland in their first match of the Six Nations.

Townsend has retained just five players who started for Scotland in their 28-21 World Cup pool defeat to Japan last October, with a number of retirements and injuries resulting in a new-look team.

Stuart Hogg, Sam Johnson, Fraser Brown, Jonny Gray and James Ritchie are the only remnants that remain from the loss which ended Scotland’s tournament and led to John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour calling time on their international careers.

Edinburgh No.8 Nick Haining makes his debut at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in a power move by Townsend.

The 6ft4in forward slots into a back row which included Ritchie and Hamish Watson, and, like opposite number Caelan Doris, is set to make his first appearance in Test rugby.

It is an all-Glasgow Warriors second row as Scott Cummings comes in to partner Jonny Gray, with Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson completing the tight five.

As expected, Adam Hastings will fill Finn Russell’s shoes at fly-half following more friction in the Racing 92 star’s relationship with Townsend.

Russell was sent back to Paris early last week for breaching team protocols, believed to be related to drinking alcohol at the team hotel and missing training the next morning.

Unperturbed, Russell returned to the Top 14 and started in Racing’s nilling of Castres, posing bare-chested in team celebrations after the 27-0 win.

Hasting forms a half-backs combination with Ali Price, who is preferred to George Horne at scrum-half.

While stiff competition in the backline also sees Huw Jones edge Rory Hutchinson for the No.13 shirt.

“We have managed to cover a lot of work in the two weeks we’ve been together and we’ve been impressed with how our players have taken on information and bonded as a team,” Townsend said. “Our goal is always to play to our potential. The challenge to do this starts on Saturday against Ireland.

“Playing to our potential starts with our collective mindset. That means being alert, focussed and resilient right from the beginning, to be ready for the physical battle that lies ahead and able to stay in the fight throughout the 80 minutes.

“We must be a relentless collective on the pitch and a nightmare for the Irish to deal with, while having the ability and awareness to impose our game at that intensity.”

“As coaches, we put frameworks together and create an environment for them to thrive and reach their potential but ultimately it’s the players who go out and deliver. We’re looking forward to seeing them play in Dublin.”


Scotland team to play Ireland (Saturday, Aviva Stadium, 4:45pm kick-off)

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (capt), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Blair Kinghorn, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price; 1 Rory Sutherland, 2 Fraser Brown, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Scott Cummings, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 James Ritchie, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Nick Haining

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Chris Harris

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