Glasgow Warriors pair Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour will make their 50th appearance in a Scotland side – that features four changes – against Wales in the Guinness Six Nations this Saturday at BT Murrayfield (kick-off 2.15pm) – live on BBC.
It will also be a 50th start for Seymour – who made his debut against South Africa in the summer of 2013 – while the opportunity comes just five days before Gray – who debuted against the Springboks that autumn – turns 25, making him the second-youngest Scot to reach the milestone.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend, paid tribute to the pair he’s coached for both club and country.
“Getting to 50 caps for your country is a milestone in a player’s career and it underlines the consistency and quality both Tommy and Jonny have delivered for Scotland over the years.”
“Tommy has started all his games and has an impressive try-scoring record, which is fundamental element of the game for a winger.
“As well as his finishing ability, his excellent work-rate off-the-ball and outstanding aerial skills have been the key reasons why he’s reached a half century of appearances for Scotland.
“Jonny is an exceptional player who came through as a young man and, by becoming the second-youngest player to win 50 caps, shows just how well he’s played in that relatively short time.
“He has a phenomenal work rate, is a very accurate tackler and takes real pride in helping the team prepare, as well as continually looking for ways to improve his own game.”
Among Scotland’s four starting changes are a new set of half-backs who will look to orchestrate the host’s efforts to secure the Doddie Weir Cup, as Racing 92 stand-off Finn Russell returns from a head injury to start alongside Glasgow Warriors scrum-half Ali Price.
Russell’s return sees Pete Horne move one place outfield to inside-centre – in place of Sam Johnson – to partner fellow Glasgow Warriors centre Nick Grigg, while the inclusion of Price means Greig Laidlaw moves to the bench, with Edinburgh hooker and club captain Stuart McInally taking on the national team responsibility for the third time.
The final change to the backs sees 21-year-old Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham earn his first start in place of injured Saracen Sean Maitland (foot) to join Seymour and clubmate Blair Kinghorn in the back-three.
The only change to the pack is at tighthead where Edinburgh prop Willem Nel returns from a calf injury to form an all-Edinburgh front-row with McInally and loosehead Allan Dell.
They pack down in front of an unchanged back-five where lock Grant Gilchrist partners Gray in the second-row and Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Josh Strauss return to the back-row.
There are three further changes to the bench which could see recent squad additions Hamish Watson (back-row), Gordon Reid (loosehead prop) and Byron McGuigan (back three) feature for the first time this campaign.
Townsend added: “While there have been some strong moments in our games this campaign, we have yet to deliver that quality and focus for 80 minutes and play to our potential.
“We have had a couple of weeks since our defeat in Paris to look at ways we can improve our performances, through what we do in training, our tactical approach and through selection.
“First and foremost, we select a team we believe gives us the best chance of winning at the weekend, while we also have an opportunity to reward players who have been in very good form and have been knocking at the door of the team in recent weeks – Darcy Graham and Ali Price especially.
“Greig [Laidlaw], having started in our last six games is a key member of our squad, although this week we have decided to utilise his leadership and experience off the bench. He is driven by a desire to win for his country and he should have an important role to play in the latter stages of the match at the weekend.”
Wales – the world’s third-ranked side – arrive in Edinburgh as the only unbeaten team remaining in the championship and have won 10 in their last 11 Tests against their hosts, with Scotland’s success coming in their last meeting at BT Murrayfield two years ago.
Townsend added: “They [Wales] have a very good record against us and are in excellent form. It’s a similar challenge to the one we faced last year against England, who had also been on a very good run of results in their preceding games.
“We rose that the challenge that day and found a way to win and I firmly believe we can reach that level of performance once again on Saturday.”
Paul O’Connell Joins Ireland Coaching Group
Former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell has joined the Ireland national coaching group as forwards coach with Simon Easterby to focus on defence.
Paul was capped 108 times by Ireland and captained the team to Six Nations success in 2014. O’Connell’s distinguished playing career also included seven Test match appearances for the British & Ireland Lions across three tours and two Heineken Cup titles with Munster.
Since retiring from playing in 2015, Paul has held coaching positions with the Munster Academy, Ireland Under-20s and Top 14 side Stade Francais.
“I am really looking forward to working with Andy and the rest of the coaching group. I worked with Simon as a player and am looking forward to working with him again. It’s an exciting young group of players to be involved with and there are talented forwards coming through across the four provinces that will no doubt be pushing for international selection in the coming months and years.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented:
“Paul brings a wealth of rugby knowledge with him and as forwards coach he will have responsibility for the forwards including the line-out working alongside John (Fogarty). He will also be another strong voice and leader within the group.
“Simon (Easterby) has a real passion for defence and having developed Ireland’s forward play over the past six years with the additional responsibility for the defence over the past 12 months, he will now be able to focus his energy and rugby intellect on this area of our game.
“The weekend’s Interpro games and the European fixtures in the weeks ahead will give players the opportunity to push for selection for the Six Nations squad. The squad will not be selected until after the Champions Cup Round 4 fixtures have been completed.”
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented: “Paul is a young Irish coach with a huge amount of international rugby experience. We have been keen to find the right opportunity for him within Irish Rugby and we think the fit with the national squad will work well. He joins the national coaching group with immediate effect as they prepare for the upcoming Six Nations Championship.”
Scotland name strong team for Wales
Issued by SRU
Fresh from securing the European and Premiership double with his club Exeter Chiefs, Hogg plays at full back as one of five changes to the starting XV from the Scotland side that defeated Georgia 48-7 last week.
Finn Russell lines up at fly-half after winning his 50th Scotland cap in the Georgia victory at BT Murrayfield on Friday night, and is joined in the half-backs by Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price.
In the back division, Blair Kinghorn shifts to the wing from full-back and replaces Edinburgh teammate Duhan van de Merwe, who is named among the replacements. James Lang and Chris Harris continue their centre partnership after playing together against Georgia.
In the pack fellow Exeter Chief Jonny Gray comes into the second row and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson is selected at number 8 and will run out on his club ground on Saturday in Llanelli.Hooker Fraser Brown is named as Vice-Captain and packs down with Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in an unchanged front row.
Scott Cummings also retains his starting place to partner Gray in the second row.Edinburgh pair Jamie Ritchie, also a Vice Captain, and Hamish Watson make up the back-row with Thomson.
In the replacements Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele could make his Scotland debut if called into action.
Adam Hastings and van de Merwe complete the backline replacements. Townsend can also call upon the same front row of Oli Kebble, Stuart McInally and Simon Berghan as featured in against Georgia, alongside Worcester Warrior Cornell du Preez and Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis from the bench.
“As a group we are very much looking forward to finally completing our fixture against Wales and returning to play Guinness Six Nations rugby again. We were highly motivated back in March, and that extra edge has come back into our training and preparations this week.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend
“It’s been great to bring in quality and experience to our starting line-up with players such as Stuart, Jonny and Finn who have been involved in some high-level games in recent weeks. We were also encouraged by Blade’s display at the weekend for Scarlets, which is a timely boost given last weekend’s injury to Matt Fagerson.
“We are expecting a physical battle against a very good side, one which we will be working hard to stay in the fight and to finish the fight in Llanelli. Ultimately, this game provides an opportunity for us to end this extended championship on a positive note and go into the Autumn Nations Cup with some added belief in what this group of players can achieve.”
Wales XV announced for 6 Nations finale v Scotland.
Jones levelled the record last weekend but will take the honour for himself at Parc y Scarlets this weekend as Wales face Scotland in their re-arranged Guinness Six Nations finale (14.15 KO BBC & S4C).
At the other end of the international spectrum, Cardiff Blues back-row Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his first test appearance for Wales in a back-row alongside experienced Lions duo Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.
European Champion and English Premiership winner Tomas Francis comes into the front-row alongside Rhys Carre and Ryan Elias.
In the backline Gareth Davies partners Dan Biggar with Owen Watkin coming into the midfield alongside Jonathan Davies.
Liam Williams returns to the back-three to feature alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny.
On the bench Sam Parry, Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row replacements with Cory Hill and James Davies completing the forward contingent. Lloyd Williams comes straight into the matchday squad and provides backline cover along with Rhys Patchell and Nick Tompkins.
Issued by WRU