Head coach Vern Cotter has described Ryan Wilson as “exceptional” after naming him in the team at the first opportunity following the end of the flanker’s international suspension.
Wilson, 26, was found guilty in January on two counts of assault and fined £750 for the incidents which happened in a Glasgow takeaway restaurant last October.
The Glasgow Warriors forward was subsequently suspended from his club without pay for three months, with an extended international ban until August 23. He also underwent a programme which the SRU said would “support his personal development around the factors which contributed to the original conviction”.
Wilson was yesterday selected for tomorrow’s third World Cup warm-up Test against Italy at BT Murrayfield, lining up in a starting team which looks closer to a first choice XV than the previous two games – a 28-22 loss to Ireland in Dublin and a 16-12 win over the Italians in Turin.
Openside flanker John Barclay makes his first start for Scotland since November 2013 after returning from the international wilderness when he won his 44th cap off the bench in Dublin two weeks ago. Edinburgh No.8 David Denton completes the back-row, while it will be an all Capital front row of Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel, with hooker Ford becoming Scotland’s most-capped forward with his 88th appearance – one more than the record of 87 he shares with Scott Murray.
Grant Gilchrist, who missed out on the chance to captain in Turin last weekend, partners Jonny Gray in the second row.
In the backs, Sean Lamont is named at right wing for the third straight game and is the only retention from the starting XV that won in Italy, with Tim Visser on the left flank. Skipper Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell resume their Six Nations half-back partnership, while the Glasgow trio of centres Peter Horne and fit-again Mark Bennett, and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg, complete the lineout.
Cotter revealed the team at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, where the squad have been based this week, and when asked how impressed he had been with the application Wilson has shown during training, the 53-year-old New Zealander replied: “He’s been...well I would almost put him in the outstanding category with what he’s bringing – his competitive nature and his skill set. I think he’s the fastest forward we have.”
Wilson returned for his club to play a part in the Guinness Pro12 win, delivering a stand-out display in the final, and Cotter agreed that was the level of performance he was expecting from the Aldershot-born loose forward.
“That [off-field troubles] was outside what we have been doing. It hasn’t even been mentioned. We have been looking at his rugby and what he is bringing to the team with his character. It has been exceptional. We’ve just got on with the job and he has been very good.
“We want to look at him playing for us. He has been waiting for this opportunity. We have been impressed with what he’s done and he gets an opportunity.
“We need to see that transferred to the paddock. He is in a very competitive position and we need to see if we can get the right mix.”
Cotter revealed that injured centre Alex Dunbar was seeing a specialist in London yesterday and, as with all players, his medical report will be fully assessed on Monday before the final 31-man squad is picked, then announced the following day.
The coach said that Tommy Seymour, who tweaked a back injury before the Ireland game, and Sean Maitland, who is coming back from a long-term shoulder injury, were both close to featuring this weekend, but the medical staff felt they needed another week.
He also paid tribute to Lamont, who is busting a gut to make his third World Cup, and said: “Sean doesn’t ask for rests, we have to take him out and put him on the sidelines at training because he’s doing too much, but he’s in fine form.
“Tommy Seymour might have been able to play but we didn’t take the risk of putting him on the paddock or of pushing him too hard earlier in the week. Tommy was probably going to get a run and give [Lamont] a rest but Sean has definitely put his hand up and I think he’s playing very well. He doesn’t look like he’s got a few years under his belt, he looks like a young, sprightly man.
“Sean [Maitland] is another one we could have played this week, but the medical staff felt that if he had another full week of putting strength into his shoulder that he would be better off for it. He’s been fully training and we’d like to think he’ll be available for next week.”
Scotland team: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (c), Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay, David Denton. Subs: Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid, Jon Welsh, Robert Harley, Blair Cowan, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Matt Scott.