Scotland v Wales: Gregor Townsend makes only one change for second Six Nations fixture at BT Murrayfield
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Zander Fagerson returns to the front row having missed out on last weekend’s win over England at Twickenham, with fellow tighthead prop WP Nel moving to the replacements’ bench. Tighthead Pierre Schoeman and hooker George Turner make up the front row. Aside from Nel, the replacements also remain unchanged.
Despite the intoxicating nature of last weekend's win, Townsend explained that his team selection for the visit of the Welsh was not straightforward. “No, it wasn't,” he said, when asked if it was an easy decision to pick 14 of the 15 who started at Twickenham.
“We actually delayed the (internal) team announcement because we had a few selections that we had to sleep on. I believe they've earned the right to get a second opportunity to build on that win but the performance wasn't at our best level.
“We've got players on the bench and outwith the 23 who are quality players that have played very well for us in the past or are itching for that opportunity, so it wasn't an easy decision, but these guys now have the opportunity to build on last week.”
Townsend has sensed a drive within his squad to deliver an improved performance this weekend as Scotland bid to kick off a campaign with back-to-back wins for the first time since the inception of the Six Nations in 2000.
“Good, determined to improve from last week," he said when asked about the mood in the group. There's been an edge to training, like there was last week. As a coach, I see other things in meetings and how the players talk to each other and it all seems like their focus is on improving this week, which is all you can ask for.
“We have to improve from what we did last week because in large parts of that game, we weren't at our best. I saw better performances in Argentina in the summer and in our games in November. The good thing was we took our opportunities and we showed resilience into that final quarter and that makes us tough to beat. But we're not at our potential, and that's what we're striving towards."
Townsend has no worries about throwing Fagerson into such a huge match even though he has not played since the first weekend of December. “When we saw how well he trained last week, we did think about involving him last week but we wanted to back WP (Nel) and Simon (Berghan) who both played really well for us," he said. "We believe Zander is more than ready to perform.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made five changes to the side that lost 34-10 at home to Ireland last weekend, but Townsend is anticipating a tough test from the visitors.
“Probably what they delivered in the second half and a lot of the first half (against Ireland)," he said when asked what he expects from the Welsh. I felt they took the game to Ireland, they had opportunities. They were held up on the line twice, they were penalised close to the line, they had the same amount of line-breaks as Ireland.
“We know Wales are a quality side and they're as motivated as ever to get a win after starting with a defeat. These players they've brought in are players in form, they've either played well off the bench at the weekend or played very well for their clubs this year.
"The threats they have through their ball-carrying, their speed, and what they do over the ball is something we have to be very aware of. It (the number of changes) means they've got strength in depth. They've picked a team that is going to come after us. It's a positive selection from their point of view bringing in younger players who want to drive the team forward."
15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) 97 caps; 14. Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors) 6 caps, 13. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) 32 caps, 12. Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors) 12 caps, 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby) 24 caps; 10. Finn Russell (Racing 92) 66 caps, 9. Ben White (London Irish) 10 caps; 1. Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby) 17 caps, 2. George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) 31 caps, 3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) 54 caps, 4. Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors) 70 caps, 5. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby) – Vice-Captain – 60 caps, 6. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh Rugby) – Captain – 37 caps, 7. Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh Rugby) 3 caps, 8. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) 29 caps
Replacements: 16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) 58 caps, 17. Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) 26 caps, 18. WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) 51 caps, 19. Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs) 73 caps, 20. Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors) 5 caps, 21. George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) 19 caps, 22. Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby) 39 caps, 23. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby) 40 caps.