EDINBURGH, United Kingdom, Feb 7 – Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said dropping hat-trick scorer Blair Kinghorn to the bench had been a painful decision as he named his side to face Ireland in Saturday’s Six Nations match at Murrayfield.
Kinghorn became the first Scotland player in 30 years to score a Championship treble when he ran in three tries during an opening 33-20 win at home to Italy last weekend.
But he now finds himself on the bench for the match, with Townsend restoring fit-again wing Sean Maitland to a now all British and Irish Lions back three also including full-back Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour.
Reigning champions Ireland saw their dreams of back-to-back Grand Slams scuppered with a 32-20 defeat by England in Dublin last week.
But Townsend, after announcing his team on Thursday, was adamant the Irish would provide Scotland with “probably the biggest challenge we’ll face in the Guinness Six Nations”.
And given that, he has decided to start with experienced Saracens wing Maitland, a veteran of 37 Tests.
But asked how hard it had been to drop Kinghorn to the bench, Townsend replied: “More difficult than what we planned it was going to be the week before.”
“Blair’s performance did mean that we had an extended discussion that probably went on a second day, but we believe Tommy and Sean are best equipped for this game,” the former Scotland playmaker added.
Townsend has also made three changes to his pack, with prop Simon Berghan, yellow-carded against Italy, and back-row Josh Strauss starting in place of the injured Willem Nel (calf) and Sam Skinner (ankle) while Jonny Gray, fit following a shoulder problem, replaces the benched lock Ben Toolis.
– ‘Varied game’ –
Ireland beat Scotland 28-8 in Dublin last season but their most recent visit to Murrayfield saw the Scots triumph 27-22 two years ago.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt defended his tactics after his side — who won 11 of their 12 Tests in 2018 — were accused of lacking a ‘Plan B’ after being overwhelmed physically and outplayed tactically by England.
“I’m not sure how they summarise Plan A, because I think we have a very varied game,” said Schmidt, whose team beat world champions New Zealand in November.
“We play strong off set-piece, we play a varied kicking game, we play with a varied attacking game. And we try to vary our defensive game.”
Schmidt has made several changes, notably recalling Rob Kearney at fullback.
Robbie Henshaw, a Lions centre who struggled at full-back against England, was omitted due to a dead leg, with centre Chris Farrell replacing the sidelined Garry Ringrose (hamstring).
In the pack, a revamped back-row sees Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan returning in place of Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander.
Quinn Roux, like Stander born in South Africa, comes into the second row in place of the injured Devin Toner.
Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Josh Strauss, James Ritchie, Ryan Wilson; Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Allan Dell
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, D’Arcy Rae, Ben Toolis, Rob Harley, Ali Price, Pete Horne, Blair Kinghorn
Coach: Gregor Townsend (SCO)
Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony; James Ryan, Quinn Roux; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, John Cooney, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour
Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)