SCOTLAND coach Gregor Townsend has made three changes to his starting line-up to face Wales – all to the pack. Stuart McInally returns at hooker in place of Fraser Brown, Sam Skinner is in at lock instead of Scott Cummings, and Magnus Bradbury takes over from Nick Haining, who has been ill this week. Brown and Cummings both drop to the bench, where they are joined by Matt Fagerson.
“We set out this season to improve our consistency over a run of five tough games, something we have done well so far,” Townsend said of a campaign which has seen Scotland record two wins and pick up losing bonus points in the other two. “We’ve stayed in the fight in every game, which is a credit to how hard the players have worked in training and during the Tests.
“It’s also been encouraging to see how well the players have grown together and have taken on board the input from new coaches, Steve (Tandy) and Pieter (de Villiers), who have done a great job in their first season with the team. We’ve still got a lot to improve on and we’ll have to fight even harder on Saturday in Cardiff, which is one of the best and toughest places to play Test rugby.
“We have huge respect for the Welsh team, who narrowly missed out on a World Cup Final a few months ago. They are well coached and have some outstanding players. It will be a fantastic occasion and one last opportunity to play to our potential in this championship.”
The changes made by Townsend have been influenced by the six-day turnaround from the win over France, although the coach explained that Haining might have been passed fit to play. “Nick Haining was struggling after the weekend with an illness, and given the six-day turnaround we felt it was better to go with Magnus and Matt Fagerson who were 100 per cent fit and fresh,” he said. “It’s tough on Nick – he may have recovered in time for the game at the weekend. He’s doing really well in this Six Nations and added real depth to our back row.”
As Sam Skinner missed the start of the campaign through injury, he might well have been brought back in for this game in any case, while one additional element in the change at hooker is the fact that Fraser Brown’s wife has just given birth. “Fraser gets a well-earned rest,” Townsend added. “He became a dad yesterday so he’s spent the last couple of days looking after his wife. But he’s desperate to play as well.
“The players want to carry on the good work we’ve been doing and also go to a place where they have never won and play our best game of the season. That’s what we’ll need to beat Wales on Saturday.”
While the coronavirus situation is changing quickly, it now looks likely that the game on Saturday will go ahead, with restrictions on large public gatherings possibly being introduced on Monday. Asked if he thought the fixture should take place, Townsend replied:
“We are at the behest of the policy-makers and so far things have been put in place that the game will go ahead. We’ve followed all procedures and protocols regarding contact and washing hands, and we saw at the weekend what a fantastic spectacle that was and how great the Six Nations is.
“And we hope that we get to play this weekend. We understand if that’s not the case and it’s for serious reasons.
“We’re two days away from the game. We played last weekend. I do understand that things move fast, but we’re two days away, so it would be a surprise if the game was called off this late.
“We’ve been getting updates pretty regularly on the situation. We played in Italy before the outbreak really set hold and games started getting called off there, and sporting events started getting called off. Since then it was the build-up to the France game, and what as an organisation we had to do to put on that game. I’m sure the same is happening in Wales just now. And we’re two days away from the game so we’ll wait and see if that changes in the next two days.”
Scotland (v Wales at the Principality Stadium, Saturday 2.15pm): Stuart Hogg (captain); Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury. Substitutes: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Willem Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Duncan Weir, Kyle Steyn.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; George North, Nick Tompkins, Hadleigh Parkes, Liam Williams; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, WillGriff John, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi. Substitutes: Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Taulupe Faletau, Gareth Davies, Jarrod Evans, Johnny McNicholl.