VERN COTTER has made three changes to the starting Scotland team to face Ireland in this Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations finale in Dublin (kick-off 5pm) – live on ITV.
Glasgow Warriors stand-off Duncan Weir has been handed his first start of the championship in place of club mate Finn Russell, who has been ruled out of the fixture with concussion, despite his continued progression through the graduated return-to-play protocol.
Weir was absent from the Scotland squads that defeated Italy and France and last started for Scotland against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, where a scintillating break from his own half led to a Tommy Seymour try.
This willingness to take on the gain line has been an increasingly prominent feature of his game since the global showcase, with his selection a reward for impressive form in the Guinness PRO12, where he earned back-to-back, man-of-the-match awards in the Warriors’ wins over Dragons and Cardiff.
Weir will partner captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who will surpass the record held by former internationalist David Sole (25) as the most appearances as Scotland skipper.
The remaining changes appear in the pack, with lock Tim Swinson – who has made four replacement appearances in this year’s tournament – set for his first start alongside Richie Gray, in place of the injured Jonny Gray (pectoral tear).
Ryan Wilson starts at number 8 in place of Josh Strauss – who moves to the bench – reverting to the back-row combination that started Scotland’s win over Italy in Rome, alongside flankers John Hardie and John Barclay, the latter set to make a half century of appearances for his country.
“We were pleased with our sustained effort against France,” said Cotter.
“I was happy with the way we adapted to losing Finn [Russell] so early in the game. The team came together and was rewarded for their endeavour with the end result.”
“The challenge for us now is to keep constructing our game and enjoy the last coming together of the championship in a Scotland jersey, against an Ireland team full of confidence after a convincing win over Italy.”
The pack is completed by the return of ever-present front-row trio Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Willem Nel, who start their fifth consecutive match of the championship.
In the backs, centres Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor return to midfield while the back-three of Seymour, Tim Visser, and Stuart Hogg return for a third time in a row.
Cotter has made two further changes to the replacements, with Rob Harley coming on to the bench place vacated by the promoted Swinson, while Henry Pyrgos has been named as replacement scrum-half for what could be his first Scotland appearance since his post Rugby World Cup wrist surgery.
Scotland team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 19 March (kick-off 5pm) – live on ITV.
15. Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) – 42 caps; 10 tries, 3 pens, 59 points
14. Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) – 26 caps; 13 tries, 65 points
13. Duncan Taylor (Saracens) – 16 caps; 2 tries, 10 points
12. Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) – 15 caps; 4 tries, 20 points
11. Tim Visser (Harlequins) – 25 caps; 11 tries, 55 points
10. Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) – 22 caps; 2 tries, 7 cons, 10 pens, 1 drop, 57 points
9. Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN (Gloucester) – 50 caps; 4 tries, 62 cons, 118 pens, 498 points
1. Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) – 56 caps; 2 tries, 10 points
2. Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) – 98 caps; 2 tries, 10 points
3. Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) – 12 caps; 1 try, 5 points
4. Richie Gray (Castres) – 55 caps; 2 tries, 10 points
5. Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) – 21 caps
6. John Barclay (Scarlets) – 49 caps; 4 tries, 20 points
7. John Hardie (Edinburgh Rugby) – 9 caps; 3 tries, 15 points
8. Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) – 17 caps
16. Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) – 6 caps
17. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby) – uncapped
18. Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs) – 31 caps
19. Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors) – 17 caps; 1 try, 5 points
20. Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors) – 7 caps
21. Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) – 17 caps; 4 tries, 20 points
22. Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 17 caps; 2 tries, 1 con, 1 pen, 15 points
23. Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) – 103 caps; 14 tries, 70 points