GREGOR TOWNSEND has generally gone for the tried and tested with his team selection for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England at Murrayfield.
He has opted with 2021 Lion tourist Rory Sutherland ahead of Pierre Schoeman at loose-head prop despite a lack of recent game time due to a combination of injury and suspension. Grant Gilchrist is named alongside Jonny Gray in the second-row with Scott Cummings not involved. Matt Fagerson gets the nod ahead of Magnus Bradbury – who is on the bench – at No 8.
He has named the same starting backline as he sent out against Japan at the end of the Autumn and against France at the end of the last Six Nations. London Irish scrum-half Ben White is in line for a debut off the bench, Blair Kinghorn is covering stand-off and back-three, and Sione Tuipulotu rather than Cam Redpath is the other back replacement, with the head coach having gone with a five-three split on the bench.
“We feel privileged to be involved in the oldest international rugby fixture on Saturday, against our nearest rivals,” said Townsend. “We are aware of how much winning at Twickenham boosted the spirits of our supporters at the start of last year’s tournament, and we’re looking forward to playing in front of them in person this year.
“We are under no illusions on the tough challenge we have ahead of us against an England side who defeated the World Champions in their last outing.
“The starting 15 we have named has a consistent feel to it which is great for cohesion but we will also benefit from returning players such as Jonny Gray and Rory Sutherland who have been important players for us in recent seasons.
“Ben White has been in very good form for London Irish and has trained well in the last two weeks, so can approach his first involvement at Test level with real confidence.”
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Meanwhile, Eddie Jones has made 23-year-old flanker Tom Curry the youngest England’s youngest Six Nations captain since Will Carling in 1988.
Elliot Daly starts only his second match for England at outside centre — the first was in the autumn of 2016 against South Africa — with Henry Slade moving to inside centre. As anticipated, Marcus Smith starts at stand-off.
The unavailability of Courtney Lawes and Jonny Hill opens the door for Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe, also 23, to make his first appearance since being replaced before half-time in a tactical switch against South Africa in the summer of 2018.
“This is the first time I have gone to Murrayfield as underdogs,” said Jones in a clear effort to put the pressure onto the home side. “Scotland are red-hot favourites and they have to handle that. They’re expected to win
“As the first game, this match is hugely important to both sides and we will both want to get off to a winning start. We have a good, young team but we understand the task ahead and we’ll be ready to go after it from the first kick.
“Tom Curry will captain the side for this game and has the respect of the team around him, in Owen [Farrell] and Courtney’s absence. He also has the support of the vice-captains and other leaders in the team such as Maro Itoje and Ben Youngs.
“We have prepared really well for this game. We’ve had a number of obstacles thrown at us, but we’ve overcome them as a more together group and we’re looking forward to getting started.”
Scotland (v England at Murrayfield, on Saturday @ 4.45pm): S Hogg©; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; R Sutherland, G Turner, Z Fagerson, J Gray, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Fagerson. Subs: S McInally, P Schoeman, W Nel, S Skinner, M Bradbury, B White, B Kinghorn, S Tuipulotu.
England: F Steward; M Malins, E Daly, H Slade, J Marchant; M Smith, B Youngs, E Genge, L Cowan-Dickie, K Sinckler, M Itoje, N Isiekwe, L Ludlam, T Curry©, S Simmonds. Subs: J George, J Marler, W Stuart, C Ewels, A Dombrandt, H Randall, G Ford, J Nowell.