6N: England v Scotland: Gregor Townsend throws some selection curve-balls

Huw Jones comes in at outside-centre in place of Chris Harris for his first Scotland cap in almost two years

Huw Jones has been given the nod ahead of Chris Harris at outside-centre for Scotland's Six Nations opener versus England. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Huw Jones has been given the nod ahead of Chris Harris at outside-centre for Scotland's Six Nations opener versus England. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

GREGOR TOWNSEND has made some big calls in his Scotland team selection for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham, with a clear focus on attack and taking the game to the opposition from he start.

Huw Jones is preferred to Chris Harris at outside-centre, Ben White is given the nod at scrum-half ahead of George Horne (on the bench) and Ali Price (misses out altogether), and Zander Fagerson has not managed  to prove full match-readiness in time to play at tight-head prop meaning WP Nel wears the No 3 jersey with Simon Berghan providing cover from the bench.

Hamish Watson also misses out despite playing 80 minutes for Edinburgh last weekend following two-and-half months out with concussion, meaning his in-form capital team-mate Luke Crosbie starts at openside flanker with Jack Dempsey as back-row cover amongst the replacements.


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Kyle Steyn is preferred to Sean Maitland and England convert Ruaridh McConnochie in the injured Darcy Graham‘s place on the wing.

Meanwhile, second-row Jonny Gray is on the bench, having not trained with Scotland last week due to an “ongoing medical issue”, while Jamie Bhatti gets the nod ahead of Rory Sutherland as loose-head replacement.

 

Scotland (v England at Twickenham, Saturday 4.45pm): S Hogg; K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, W Nel, R Gray, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie©, L Crosbie, M Fagerson. Substitutes: F Brown, J Bhatti, S Berghan, J Gray, J Dempsey, G Horne, B Kinghorn, C Harris.


Six Nations preview: superpowers, fatal flaws and some bold predictions

About David Barnes 3995 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

37 Comments

  1. Exciting team. Looks like we will try to build a lead, silence the crowd and then try to hang on to it with Brown, Gray and Harris coming on to tackle everything in white.

  2. Well… like all have said – the odd 50:50 call but for the first time I can remember since GT started in the Scotland job he has picked in form players. Time will tell on the day v an England team also with an exciting backline and mobile pack – could be a high scorer!

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if GT is throwing caution to the wind because it doesn’t matter any more (leaving post RWC?) and it proves to be his best 6N?

  3. Wow that backline is exciting and if we we get some ball then who knows! I do slightly worry if Hogg is match ready and if we might not have been better with either Kinghorn or Maitland at 15. But other than that my only worry is that it all goes pear-shaped with this form-based side (finally) and I’ll have to keep quiet in future when Toonie reverts back to Price, Harris and the usual faces!

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  4. Yes to the centres but watching White’s service, there’s a hint of winding up before the pass. George Horne deserves to start.

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  5. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older and more jaded, but I used to come into Six Nations tournaments with genuine optimism! This time round, despite really liking this team lineup and overall squad and having seen some of them on fantastic form for their clubs, I have no idea what to think about the likely outcome to this game or the rest of the tourney. I can see us winning 3 or 4, or losing all 5! My sincere hope is that Scotland can run everyone close, and then, on at least 3 occasions, edge to a win, but this tournament is full of good teams, with even Italy at home likely to be a sterner test than in recent years. Hope as always, springs eternal, and it’s great to see a positive selection approach. How well that team functions if starved of ball against England will be interesting. Hopefully we can match England in the physical close exchanges and scrums.

    Come on Scotland!

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    • Agree, and we should take that as genuine progress, we no longer expect to be fighting not to get the WS …. but accept the fact that a few bad breaks / yellows (God forbid Red) and we’re bang in trouble !

      Go Scotland ….

  6. Just brilliant 👍😀
    Changing out some of the old guard.
    White has been electric for London Irish, Crosbie has been all over the park, dynamic & so strong. Welcome back Huw Jones, it’s deserved based on form.
    Now, we need some sort of parity up front to give Finn something to play off, but hey why not, the Edinburgh pack gave the much vaunted Saracens front five a real roasting the other week?

    Let’s be positive, and enjoy, win or lose, it’s only a game of rugger 🏉😀👍

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    • Yup, I’m with you, GT has chosen the best he can and other than quibbles / 50-50 calls,the team looks good. Really looking forward to it, but won’t dare to dream until this game is over…. !

  7. Should be no complaints from anyone on this site as based on previous comments you’d think the Offsideline Selection Panel had picked the side. Cant wait to see how they go.

    I hope WP can last at least 50 minutes as a bit worried about Bergens scrummaging

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  8. It’s good to have a Scottish team where we have so many alternate selections in so many places on the field. If I have one question it’s Steyn over Maitland , I ‘m not sure Steyn has delivered enough while Maitland never lets us down. Wondering also about Hogg , he if I’m right not played since Christmas, lets hope he is fully fit and ready. But overall happy with the team.

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  9. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw Jones was starting at outside centre – finally after four years of fan suffering, Townsend has woken up. For me, our Six Nations chances hinged on that one selection. The only way we are realistically going to win the title is by playing to our strengths with pace and width, bringing out primary strike runners in Jones, Hogg and VDM into the game as much as possible. All Harris has done for the last four years is slow the attack down and allow the opposition to double down on our back three. Time and again we have struggled to score tries and compete with the big teams (with Harris starting), and when we did win, there were always mitigating circumstances – ie, the opposition was under-strength or severely under-cooked. With Jones we actually beat full-strength teams with something to spare. I think the time has come for Scotland and honestly think this could be our year.

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    • I am as pleased as I think all of us are on the Huw Jones selection!
      His try record for the amount of caps he has is outstanding- 4 England, 3 Oz, 2 NZ, 1 France, 1 Ireland and a few others in there. He is a brilliantly talented line breaking try scoring machine of a centre. Scotland simply cant afford to ignore a talent like Jones and must find a way to blend our backline to enable his talents. In terms of Harris, he is clearly a very good organiser and defensive bullwark so dont want to be overly harsh on him at the same time. The management team clearly picked him for all that time for a reason, he brought alot of organisation to the backs and defended the outside channel well. Although when you look at 6 tries conceded vs France / 4 tries conceded vs Ireland in the last six nations you do wonder is the hitherto cost/benefit analysis outcome of sacrificing Jones attacking prowess for Harris defensive prowess the right call? Some might argue no, its not.

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    • I think that’s a harsh description of Harris in attack but take your point Jones is a more creative, incisive player. We’ll see if the Jones vice Harris difference in the defensive line works against us – England have got to come at us hard you’d think – but as a sign of Scotland starting with a positive, creative intent I think its great.

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  10. Horne over White all datylong and likewise with Skinner/Gray and Redpath/ Harris….but looks more progressive than we are used to. Front five must front up at set piece and same goes for back row at breakdown so we can utilise the backline. Not convinced that English will be that adventurous with Borthwick at helm so the forwards really need to be up for this

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  11. really pleased with the backs, expecting our pack to be competitive to provide enough ball so excited to see what transpires. Bench also looking strong except for Kinghorn

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  12. Well, it looks like GT has finally listened to us all!!.
    Good team with attacking intent that has rewarded form rather than past glories.
    Reflection of the strength in depth as well that so many good players are left out.
    And if George has learned to throw straight…..

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    • Not sure I agree esp on the front row choices. WP nel was great in his day but I think his form at Edinburgh lately has been poor and against England at home I predict a lot of scrum penalties against us.

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  13. Surprised Skinner isn’t at least on the bench and would prefer Healy and Redpath as replacements to Kinghorn and Harris. Jones can cover full-back at a push and probably wing too. Kinghorn obviously there as a utility back including fly half but no one over than Toonie thinks he’s good enough at international level.
    Really pleased with the midfield pairing, both have looked really sharp for Glasgow. Let’s hope a sensible selection brings it’s reward!

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    • Warks Scot
      I echo your comments re Gray,Harris and Kinghorn
      If Finn got a head knock in the first half and Kinghorn replaces him then the changes of winning become very slight indeed.
      Jonny Gray is a solid player but I cannot remember him making a positive impact from the bench. Yes, he makes a huge number of tackles, but they are soak tackles instead of dominant ones
      Not the sort of defence that stops a forward 3 metres out.
      Harris is a superb defender and if it was likely that we had a 10 point lead going into the final 10 minutes then he would be great. However, we may be behind at that point and still need to score. Which means he doesn’t get used and we have wasted a sub.
      Otherwise I think Toonie has chosen the best, well almost, team he could. I would have taken Maitland for his greater experience and ability to cover 15. Steyn on the bench would have covered wing and centre.

  14. Very happy with centre choices, which offers much more in attack than it might have done. I’m a little surprised Maitland didn’t get the nod ahead of Steyn and not convinced of White ahead of Horne, but White’s service is sound. Hopefully Fagerson will not be missed too much and it appears he’ll be available next week. Gray and Gilchrist are playing well and Crosbie’s very worthy of his place. As far as the subs go, I would have chosen Skinner before Gray, if he’s fit, and perhaps someone more dynamic than Harris, but that’s a minor quibble. All things considered, it’s not a bad bench.

    Usually, a Townsend team announcement elicits a sigh, but not this time.

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  15. Confused by Dalziel’s comment 2 days ago to find ‘Zander Fagerson failing to prove full match-readiness’ similar regarding Hamish Watson it just seems to run contrary to much of Stuart Bathgate’s article.
    Anyway fingers crossed if we get passed this hurdle we are in with a shout.

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    • Watching the YouTube video re the team announcement, Fagerson isn’t quite there yet, but should be available for the next game. I assume Watson was a consideration, but he’s just back and Crosbie’s been on good form.

  16. That is a better XV than I expected to be honest.

    I would have played Skinner instead of Gilco and had him on the bench instead of Gray jr. Not seen enough of White this season but I haven’t seen anything to suggest he should be ahead of Horne. Glad to see Crosbie and Steyn selected – both well deserved.

    I worry about Berghan. He has been playing well but I think his shape always counts against him in the minds of referees at scrum time.

    I have no idea what Kinghorn and Harris are doing on the bench. Unless we are trying to defend a lead and we can put Harris on to bolster those efforts, I don’t see any value there at all. Healy and Maitland would have been my choices as our starting centres plus Russell can cover any injury to 12 / 13 between them.

    I had been growing more optimistic as the weekend approached and fully expected the team selection to bring me back down to earth. That it hasn’t demonstrates progress of a sort. 😉

  17. For the most part, positive changes. Main concerns are the replacement front row, where Berghan is likely to be targeted and needs a big game – perhaps that’s why Brown is preferred to Ashman?

    Slightly disappointed Redpath hasn’t made the 23 but centre is highly competitive and looks to me like we have some decent experience to come on to hopefully see out a lead. Personally I’d have preferred Maitland to Steyn.

    At least Toonie won’t die wondering, he’s obviously trying to reward form and make sure we pose a real threat.

  18. Blimey. There are some big calls there. Though I think GT is right to pick on form rather than players with credit in the bank – can’t always say that about him. Also, pretty positive. I would have thought Harris would be just about the first name on GTs team sheet for a trip to Twickenham. Even after all these years, I still can’t work out how GT thinks.

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  19. Nel will be targeted by the English front row no doubt. I hope and pray he still has what it takes to step up against a world class scrum, and hold his own in the loose. Good luck to you WP!

    • If we see WP in trouble, then we are in trouble as we don’t have a better tight-head, Fagerson included (ZF’s scrummage ability has always been questionable). What we will miss is some of ZFs abilities around the park as he gets about more, is a better carrier and clearer.
      England may try to target us, but I would be starting the game with the mindset of targeting them.
      Much will depend on the referee and which of the many current interpretations are applied in this game.
      Fingers crossed we are on the good side of his thinking.

    • I’ve no doubt WP will step up for a time. My main worry is when he departs just after halftime or is injured and Simon Berghan comes on. Although he has shaped up better at Glasgow than I thought he was less than convincing last week against a unrated Dragons scrum. I can see him being targeted, us getting penalised and being forced to defend 5m lineouts. From there we will give away further daft penalties on our line and have at least one man binned. Cut, paste and repeat unfortunately.
      I can see us then playing our usual harem scarem catch up with Finn trying miracle passes and the backs running from their own 22 only to knock on and present more scrum penalties. Finn and Hugh Jones will get hooked for Kinghorn and Harris. England will make changes become less effective and the game will become more error strewn. The points gap will stabilise and this will be highlighted as successful period in the game due in no small part to Kinghorn and Harris. Townsend will become even more risk adverse as the tournament progresses and as such to extrapolate forward in time our World Cup will be over by the 7th October.

      Sorry Simon, I didn’t mean to hang Scotland not winning the World Cup on your shoulders, however you can see how your your performance on Saturday is genuinely important.

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