Scotland announce team for Six Nations opener against Wales
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has handed Newcastle centre Chris Harris a first start after naming his team to play Wales on Saturday in the Six Nations opener.
Glasgow midfielder Alex Dunbar has been going through concussion return to play protocols and doesn’t make the squad. As a result, Huw Jones switches from outside centre to inside, while Sale wing Byron McGuigan continues after his two-try display against Australia in November.
Ali Price starts at scrum-half with the experienced Greig Laidlaw on the bench.
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Up front, Newcastle tighthead Jon Welsh returns for his first cap since 2015, and Gordon Reid starts at loosehead.
Ben Toolis gets the nod to partner Jonny Gray at lock, while Ryan Wilson, who hasn’t played since mid-December, is on the bench as Cornell du Preez starts at No 8.
There could be a first cap off the bench for young Edinburgh prop Murray McCallum.
On the selection of Harris, who had a cameo on the wing off the bench in the November Test series, Townsend said: “We’ve been really impressed with Chris overall. He’s been very consistent. Defensively he’s stood out - and it’s a massive part of winning games, being successful, is having a strong defence. He’s shown that this year.
“We’ve been really impressed with him in the last two or three weeks before coming to camp, and with the unavailability of Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor, he gets an opportunity to start for us at 13.
“The fact that Huw Jones has played recently at 12, and played very well for Western Province in the Currie Cup, gave us opportunities to see how they combined at training. They’ve done really well.”
The front row has been hit by multiple injuries this season but Townsend is in the fortunate position that he can bring back veterans with plenty of Test experience in the form of Reid and Welsh, who have 38 caps between them, either side of hooker Stuart McInally.
“Yeah. We have had injuries,” continued Townsend. “We’d injuries in November, and players that were uncapped really stood out well and grabbed their opportunities.
“Darryl [Marfo], who played so well in November, isn’t available now, but Jamie Bhatti is, and he was outstanding in November. But we’ve also got players coming back that are available to us, Gordon Reid specifically, and Jon Welsh has been very consistent for Newcastle. He can’t wait to play for Scotland again.
“The way he’s trained, the way he’s prepared, has been excellent to see, and on the other side Gordy has really hit form since he missed November with being out for three months. We’ve been really impressed with his scrummaging. We believe we’ve got a really strong scrummaging unit, with two players that can scrum and also add impact off the bench in Jamie and Murray McCallum in the loose in the second half.”
Aside from McCallum and Bhatti it is a fairly experienced bench, with the likes of Laidlaw, recalled hooker Scott Lawson, Glasgow skipper Ryan Wilson, Peter Horne and Sean Maitland.
“Every call takes a lot of thought and debate, and discussion,” said Townsend, who continues with Price at scrum-half over Laidlaw, who has just returned from a broken ankle.
“We take our jobs as selectors very seriously, and we know we’ve got a responsibility to put the team we believe will help win out there, but also to our players, to make sure that we take our time in those discussions.
“It was always going to be very tight for Greig. He’s done very well to be in our squad, and to come back from injury a week ago... just at the weekend. The week before, he came off the bench, which was ahead of schedule, which was great. To play 80 minutes at the weekend showed to us that he was capable of coming back into our squad, which was good news for Greig and good news for us.”