JACK DEMPSEY has been named at No 8 in a re-shuffled Scotland back-row which sees Matt Fagerson move to blindside flanker, Jamie Ritchie shift to open-side and Hamish Watson drop of the bench, ahead of Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Ireland at Murrayfield.
Meanwhile, Jonny Gray replaces the suspended Grant Gilchrist in the second-row, where he will partner brother Richie, with Scott Cummings named ahead of Sam Skinner as bench cover. Simon Berghan is also added to the bench as tight-head cover.
The backline is unchanged from the line-up which started Scotland’s three previous matches in this championship, meaning that Stuart Hogg – named as a vice-captain – will earn his 100th cap from full-back. Head coach Gregor Townsend has gone from a 6-2 to a 5-3 split on the bench meaning that Chris Harris joins the replacement.
Townsend had particular words of praise for centurion Hogg. “It is an incredible achievement and very well deserved,” he said. “He has been one of our best players of our last ten years and also in the history of Scottish rugby. We put a tribute video together the other day when we announced the team and some of the tries he scored, some of the victories he has been involved has been fantastic, and also the creative nature of his game, we has created a lot of tries for other people. His durability, his love of the jersey and of playing the game has been constant throughout that period. It is a great game to win your 100th cap at home with a trophy at stake.
“As a person there have been changes, married, family three young children and he has had different life experiences. But I also see the same person in that he likes being out on the field and loves being cheeky with the coaches and he loves the history of the game and old rugby stories and what us coaches did, so he loved talking to us about that.
“The constant as well is his basic skills. He blew me away at Glasgow to see his passes off either hand, his kicking ability from age 19 and 20. That has been the fundamental about his game. You give him the ball and he can put people away with his pass, he is able to kick and his pace can create gaps for himself and also put wingers away, so he has been one of the best rugby players I have ever had the pleasure to work with.
“He’ll lead the team out for his 100th cap and I’m sure the crowd will want to show their love for him and appreciation for what he’s done in that jersey,” Townsend added. “This week he’s trained the best ever, certainly the best of this season. He’s responded really well to being named in the team and having the players congratulating him on his 100th cap. He’s in great physical shape. I know he wanted to play for Exeter last weekend but I messaged him to say, take it as a positive as not playing means he’ll be really fresh for this weekend.”
Townsend was also asked if his back-row selection is designed to combat the specific threat posed by Ireland.
“It’s more because of what Jack’s been doing off the bench and in training,”he replied. “He’s been really consistent in how he’s performed in training and he’s taken that into the bench. We feel that this is the right time to see this blend. They’re all ball carriers as is Hamish and he’ll have a big role to play in the last quarter of the game or longer potentially. We’re playing the top side in the world and the last 20 minutes is going to be very important.
“We’ve been working well in training and the players know there will be opportunities in this game that we didn’t take in Paris,” he continued. “There are improvements we can make in the defensive side as well. But it’s also the best Ireland side that we’ve faced. They’ve had three big wins and they’ve named probably their strongest team to face us this weekend. So while we’re improving – or have improved – we still have more improvement in us.
“We talked the other day about why are Ireland the world number one in the world. We look at the players and what their strengths are. They have excellent players who know each other and will take confidence from their wins. It’s a big challenge for us but it’s one that we’re ready for.”
Scotland (v Ireland at Marrayfield, in Edinburgh, Saturday @ 3pm): S Hogg (VC); K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson, R Gray, J Gray (VC), M Fagerson, J Ritchie©, J Dempsey. Substitutes: F Brown, J Bhatti, S Berghan, S Cummings, H Watson, A Price, B Kinghorn, C Harris.