Maitland and Johnson among four Scotland changes for Ireland

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made four changes to his starting XV to take on Ireland in Round 4 of the Guinness Six Nations this weekend.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made four changes to his starting XV to take on Ireland in Round 4 of the Guinness Six Nations this weekend.

Sean Maitland returns from a muscle injury that ruled him out of the Round 2 defeat to Wales to take his place on the wing, while Sam Johnson will make his first appearance of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations at inside centre.

Up front, the experienced WP Nel comes in at tighthead prop for the suspended Zander Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie is back from injury to line up at blindside flanker in place of Blade Thomson.

Maitland replaces Darcy Graham, who drops to the bench, and will link up with Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe in the back three, while Johnson is preferred to James Lang as Chris Harris’s partner in the centres.

Ritchie will retake his place in a fearsome back row alongside Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson, while front-rowers Simon Berghan and Jamie Bhatti, lock Grant Gilchrist and back-rower Nick Haining will all make their first appearances of the 2021 Championship if called upon from the bench.

With their Round 3 match against France postponed, it has been four weeks since Scotland’s last game – a one-point defeat to Wales that followed the historic win at Twickenham in Round 1.

At BT Murrayfield on Sunday, they will be looking to improve a recent record of one win in the last ten Test matches against Ireland and Townsend says his squad are ready for the challenge ahead.

“We are well aware of the threats posed by an experienced Ireland squad and our players have prepared for a contest they know is going to require one of their best performances,” he explained.

“We had prepared well for our postponed game against France, and the players have adapted well to the change of plans and have brought real energy and focus to our training sessions this week.

“Playing Ireland is always a physical affair and one that demands you keep stepping up to make tackles or contest for possession. They have played well in their opening three games of the Championship and have some outstanding players in their squad. It should be a cracking game.”

Scotland team to face Ireland in Round 4 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations 15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) – 82 caps – captain 14. Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 51 caps 13. Chris Harris (Gloucester) – 25 caps 12. Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) – 15 caps 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) – 7 caps 10. Finn Russell (Racing 92) – 53 caps 9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 39 caps 1. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh) – 13 caps 2. George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) – 14 caps 3. WP Nel (Edinburgh) – 42 caps 4. Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors) – 19 caps 5. Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs) – 63 caps 6. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh) – 24 caps 7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh – 38 caps 8. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 11 caps

Replacements: 16. David Cherry (Edinburgh) – 2 caps 17. Jamie Bhatti (Bath Rugby) – 16 caps 18. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) – 28 caps 19. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) – 42 caps 20. Nick Haining (Edinburgh) – 5 caps 21. Scott Steele (Harlequins) – 2 caps 22. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) – 28 caps 23. Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) – 16 caps