Scotland change four as Townsend calls for ‘best-ever’ performance

Gregor Townsend has called for one of Scotland’s “best-ever performances” after naming four changes to his starting line-up to take on Ireland on Saturday.

Gregor Townsend has called for one of Scotland’s “best-ever performances” after naming four changes to his starting line-up to take on Ireland on Saturday.

The Scotland head coach has welcomed the added experience of last year’s top try-scoring Saracens wing, Sean Maitland, who has recovered from a hamstring injury to start in place of last weekend’s hat-trick try-scorer Blair Kinghorn, who moves to the bench.

Maitland will form a familiar back three with fellow British & Irish Lions Tommy Seymour and full-back Stuart Hogg, who will bring a combined 150 caps and 49 tries into their 18th Scotland Test start as a trio this Saturday.

The remaining changes come in the pack, where prop Simon Berghan and back row Josh Strauss start in place of injured forwards Willem Nel (calf) and Sam Skinner (ankle).

Jonny Gray’s recovery from a shoulder injury sees him replace second row Ben Toolis, who moves to the bench.

The bench sees four further changes, where uncapped prop D’arcy Rae takes the replacement spot vacated by Berghan, experienced Glasgow Warriors pair Fraser Brown and Pete Horne return from injury, and fellow Warrior Rob Harley is drafted into the matchday 23.

Townsend commented: “We picked up two injuries from last week with WP (Nel) and Sam (Skinner) missing out, which is disappointing for us and them, but have had a boost with a number of proven Test players returning from injury and available to us this week.

“To have that calibre of player and experience around the group in the build-up this week, and during a game of such magnitude, is very important.”

Glasgow centre Sam Johnson has been handed the chance to build on an impressive debut against Italy alongside fellow Warrior Huw Jones, while influential half-backs Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell continue.

The reselection of Allan Dell and Stuart McInally alongside Berghan means an all-Edinburgh front-row will take to the field once more, in spite of Nel’s absence.

Behind them in the scrum Grant Gilchrist starts alongside Gray, while Ryan Wilson and Jamie Ritchie join Strauss in the back-row.

Townsend continued: “It’s massive. It’s probably the biggest challenge we’ll face in the Guinness Six Nations, given the way Ireland have been playing in the last few years – they are Grand Slam champions and the number-two team in the world.

“They’re very well coached, have some outstanding players and will test us in a number of areas – defensively, set-piece, attack and kicking game. It is a challenge that brings an extra edge and focus to training and something our players relish taking on.

“Our players have risen to the challenge of playing New Zealand, England and other world-class teams and they are aware that we must rise once more to produce one of our best-ever performances for 80 minutes.”

Scotland team to play Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations

Saturday 9 February, kick-off 2.15pm – live on BBC

15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)  14. Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors)  13. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors)  12. Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) 11. Sean Maitland (Saracens) 10. Finn Russell (Racing 92) 9. Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) (Capt)

1. Allan Dell (Edinburgh)  2. Stuart McInally (Edinburgh)  3. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh)  4. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh)  5. Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors)  6. Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors)  7. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh)  8. Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks)

Replacements 16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors)  17. Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors)  18. D’arcy Rae (Glasgow Warriors)  19. Ben Toolis (Edinburgh)  20. Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors)  21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors)  22. Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors)  23. Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)