Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has resisted any temptation to make unpredictable selections in his team to play Ireland on Sunday, restricting the adventurous choices to the bench. From Stuart Hogg at full-back to Ryan Wilson at No 8, this is a tried and tested line-up for a Pool A clash which is expected to be decided by very narrow margins.
The inclusion of Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half and John Barclay at blindside means that skipper Stuart McInally has his two vice-captains on the field with him. Allan Dell and WP Nel start either side of McInally in the front row, Grant Gilchrist partners Jonny Gray at lock, and Hamish Watson is at openside. Finn Russell partners Laidlaw at half-back, Sam Johnson and Duncan Taylor are the centre partnership, and Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland are on the wings.
On the bench, Fraser Brown is the replacement hooker and will make his return from injury. Gordon Reid and Simon Berghan are the back-up props, Scott Cummings gets the nod ahead of Ben Toolis as lock substitute, and Blade Thomson is in the 23 as a replacement who can play at 6 or 8 or in the second row if required.
In the backs, Chris Harris, like Thomson, is in the squad in part for his versatility, and will provide cover for 10 and the centres. Winger/full-back Darcy Graham is there too and will surely have a vital role to play late in the game as both teams tire, while scrum-half Ali Price can also be expected to come on.
“Our team has a lot of experience playing together in major games for Scotland, with a bench capable of making a difference when required,” Townsend said. “That cohesion, experience and leadership is very valuable in a build-up to a match of this magnitude as well as during the 80 minutes on Sunday.
“We’ve had a really productive week’s preparation in Nagasaki ahead of our arrival in Tokyo, with our players adapting to the time zone and weather conditions out here in Japan. As we’ve got closer to the game our training has been more about fine-tuning the hard work that’s gone in over pre-season into a focus for Sunday’s game.
“In Ireland we face a quality opposition who, over the past number of years, have earned the right to be the No 1 ranked side in the world. We know them well and are well aware of the strengths they possess throughout their squad. We expect them to play very well, as they did in their most recent games against Wales, so only our best performance will do in order to win. The prospect of facing them in the opening round of a Rugby World Cup is a fantastic challenge for our players and supporters around the world.”
Scotland (v Ireland in Yokohama, Sunday 22 September, kick-off 4.45pm Japan time, 8.45am BST): Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Sam Johnson, Duncan Taylor, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson. Substitutes: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Scott Cummings, Blade Thomson, Ali Price, Chris Harris, Darcy Graham.