There is a lot of optimism surrounding Scottish rugby at the moment. Gregor Townsend has built on the great work done by Vern Cotter, turning Scotland from perennial wooden spoon contenders to a potential championship contenders. With three games at the Murrayfield fortress this year, Scotland will be eyeing the Italy game as a way to make a statement on opening weekend.
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Full-back can only go to one man: Stuart Hogg. The Exeter bound full-back is pretty much the best in the business, and is one of Scotland’s most important players. Right wing is a tight call, with Blair Kinghorn coming very close but Gregor Townsend will probably stick with tried and tested for his wingers, with Tommy Seymour on one, and Sean Maitland on the other. Kinghorn will more than likely get on the pitch, and Darcy Graham will bring some Sevens magic if he gets some
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13 is likely to go to Huw Jones. The former Stormer has made the Scotland outside centre spot his own since he arrived back from South Africa. Jones is one of the best in the world, but will face competition from Nick Grigg. The 12 jersey is a harder call. Sam Johnson was in pole position to make his Scotland debut, and could still do so, but is in doubt for the opening rounds as he is recovering from a concussion. Until then, Townsend will likely stick with Pete Horne.
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The dream team. The eccentric maverick kept in check by the calm, calculated general. The old cliche about France can also be applied to Finn Russell. You never know which Finn is going to turn up. Six Nations last year a case in point. Has a stinker against France, gets hooked for Greig Laidlaw of all people to go to 10. Next game, has the performance of his life to help Scotland win the Calcutta Cup. Greig Laidlaw has his critics: in the eyes of many his delivery is as slow as a wet Monday, but the fact is, Scotland are a much better team when Laidlaw plays.
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Scotland have been absolutely slaughtered by injuries to their flankers. Townsend’s first choice trio of Johnny Barclay, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson are all injured, with the latter likely to make a return late in the tournament. Jamie Ritchie is likely to get one flank. The Edinburgh man played both sides in the Autumn, but will probably take the blindside spot to accommodate the return of John Hardie. Hardie is back in business at Newcastle Falcons after some months out of the game. The Kiwi born flanker was first choice before his enforced sabbatical from the game and will be dying for the opportunity to get back on the international stage. Number 8 is a harder question. Josh Strauss has been there in the past, but has a tendency to be lazy, even if his ballcarrying is some of the best available to Scotland. It will be between Strauss and David Denton, fitness dependent on both counts.
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Jonny Gray is one of the most reliable players in the game. Nobody works harder, and tackles non stop, almost going a whole season without missing one. Sam Skinner is new to the Scotland setup, and looks like he’ll be there for years to come. The Exeter Chief put in a man of the match performance on his first start in the Autumn, and looks likely to beat Grant Gilchrist to the starting spot.
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The most exciting news here is at tighthead; WP Nel is back. The Edinburgh prop was making a name for himself as one of the best in the world before his run of injuries set him back. Nel will turn the Scottish scrum into an absolute weapon. All-action hooker Stuart McInally will take the 2 jersey, with Allan Dell likely to round out the front row.
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Huw Jones
12. Pete Horne
11. Sean Maitland
10. Finn Russell
9. Greig Laidlaw
8. Josh Strauss
7. John Hardie
6. Jamie Ritchie
5. Jonny Gray
4. Sam Skinner
3. Willem Nel
2. Stuart McInally
1. Allan Dell
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
England name team to face Italy
Issued by Rugby Football Union
Ben Youngs is set to make his 100th cap for his country, at scrum half – becoming the second most capped England men’s player of all time after Jason Leonard (114 caps). Youngs made his senior team debut against Scotland in March 2010, where he came on as a substitute in the Calcutta Cup.
There is also a milestone for hooker Jamie George, who will make his 50th appearance for England this weekend.
Both players will lead England out at the Stadio Olimpico. England need a bonus-point win to put them in contention for winning the tournament, depending on the result in France v Ireland, which follows the game in Rome.
Jonny Hill will make his England debut at lock, while Owen Farrell, starting at fly-half, will captain the side. Henry Slade is at inside centre while Jonathan Joseph returns for England at outside centre.
George Furbank is named at full back with Jonny May and Anthony Watson on the wings.
Kyle Sinckler will play tighthead and Mako Vunipola loosehead in the front row. Maro Itoje completes the tight five.
Sam Underhill is named at open-side flanker with Tom Curry named at blind-side flanker and Billy Vunipola, returning from injury for England for the first time since the Rugby World Cup Final, at No. 8.
Uncapped trio Tom Dunn, Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Thorley are named as finishers, alongside scrum half Dan Robson. Props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart also join the bench with Charlie Ewels and Ben Earl.
Jones said: “We’ve trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy.
“The team have prepared well and are looking forward to putting on an England shirt and showing what they can do.
“We will also celebrate two major achievements in Ben Youngs and Jamie George’s cap milestones. It’s testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them.”
Italy v England is live on ITV 1 and BBC Radio 5 Live (4.45pm GMT KO).