Six changes for Calcutta Cup defence
Head Coach Gregor Townsend has made six changes to the starting Scotland team to face England in this Saturday’s final Guinness Six Nations Test at Twickenham Stadium (16 March) – live on ITV.
The Scots travel south in defence of the Calcutta Cup trophy they lifted for the first time in ten years at BT Murrayfield last year, with a victory in west London escaping the Scots in each of the biennial times of asking since 1983.
Looking ahead to the challenge that awaits, Townsend said: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.
“The character and fitness the players displayed showed, in the second-half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.
“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times against Wales we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”
He continued: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the championship.
“They have shown a different game plan this season, which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.
“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them, and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.”
Scotland’s team changes are split evenly between the backs and forwards and see English Premiership pair Sean Maitland (Saracens) and Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) start in place of back-three counterparts Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour – both injured in last weekend’s loss to Wales – alongside try-scorer Darcy Graham.
The alterations to the back division are completed by Glasgow Warriors inside-centre Sam Johnson, who starts his fourth Test of the tournament in place of clubmate Pete Horne.
Johnson partners fellow Warrior Nick Grigg in midfield, with half-backs Finn Russell and Ali Price starting once again.
The starting back-row features two of the three pack changes where Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson will earn his 25th cap in place of Jamie Ritchie, who has not recovered sufficiently from the head / neck injury sustained against Wales to feature this weekend.
Exeter Chiefs forward Sam Skinner – injured in the opening round win over Italy – returns to blindside flank in place of Sale Sharks’ Josh Strauss – who moves to the bench – with Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury moving to the national number 8 position for the first time.
The last change sees Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis start in place of Jonny Gray – who moves to the bench – alongside clubmate Grant Gilchrist to form an all-Edinburgh tight five with returning front-row forwards Allan Dell, captain Stuart McInally and Willem Nel, meaning all but one of the starting pack hails from the capital club.
Newcastle Falcons back Chris Harris marks his return from the calf injury he sustained representing his club in the fallow week of the tournament with a place on the most experienced bench to be named by Townsend this campaign.
Head Coach comments on selection...
“Both Sam Skinner and Ben Toolis started for us against Italy and deserve another opportunity to show what they can do in a blue jersey.
“While it’s tough on Jamie to miss this game through injury, we’re delighted to bring back Hamish Watson into the starting line-up. He made a real impact on Saturday and we have no doubt that he’s ready to take the game to the opposition in attack and defence.
“Sam [Skinner] brings a lot of set-piece nous and gives us good balance in the back-row and we are keen to give Magnus [Bradbury] an opportunity to start at number eight.
“His match fitness has grown over the last two games and he did a number of good things last weekend. There is more to come from him and, as a pack, we know we have to deliver a massive performance of work-rate and physicality this weekend.
“Sam Johnson gets an opportunity to build on his strong performances against Italy and Ireland, while it’s good to have Sean Maitland back in the back-three alongside Darcy and Byron, who both played well last weekend.
“These three players and the team as a whole, will have to put in a lot of work off the ball to counter this threat on Saturday."
Scotland team to play England at Twickenham Stadium
Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 16 March (kick-off 5pm) – live on ITV
15. Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 39 caps
14. Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) – 3 caps
13. Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors) – 8 caps
12. Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) – 3 caps
11. Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) – 7 caps
10. Finn Russell VICE CAPTAIN (Racing 92) – 43 caps
9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 23 caps
1. Allan Dell (Edinburgh) – 21 caps
2. Stuart McInally CAPTAIN (Edinburgh) – 26 caps
3. Willem Nel (Edinburgh) – 28 caps
4. Ben Toolis (Edinburgh) – 17 caps
5. Grant Gilchrist VICE CAPTAIN (Edinburgh) – 32 caps
6. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) – 4 caps
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) – 24 caps
8. Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh) – 6 caps
16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 41 caps
17. Gordon Reid (London Irish) – 33 caps
18. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) – 18 caps
19. Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – 50 caps
20. Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks) – 21 caps
21. Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) – 70 caps
22. Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) – 10 caps
23. Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) – 7 caps