Scotland have made four changes to their starting XV and a further positional switch in their team to open the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship away to Ireland on Sunday.
British & Irish Lion Stuart Hogg (pictured above) returns at full-back having missed the viagogo Autumn Tests through injury, while other alterations from the team that lined-up against Australia see Alex Dunbar preferred to Nick De Luca in the centre; Tim Swinson win the nod over Grant Gilchrist in the second-row; and a fourth Glasgow Warrior, Ryan Wilson, chosen at blindside flanker instead of Johnnie Beattie.
For Dunbar, Swinson and Wilson it is their first RBS 6 Nations start and the same goes for Duncan Taylor at inside centre.
Sean Maitland, who scored on his first outing in the Championship in the opening game last season, moves to the wing to accommodate Hogg in the 15 jersey.
Scotland will be captained by Kelly Brown, who will be winning his 61st cap, thus equalling Doddie Weir’s record as the most-capped product of the Melrose club.
Head coach Scott Johnson acknowledged that it had been a tough selection. “The forwards especially were a hard pick but we’re happy. We believe we’ve got a good combination to go in against formidable opposition,” he told scottishrugby.org
Johnson reflected that Scotland’s back-row selection increased their lineout options and hailed the inclusion of 24-year-old Wilson, for the additional athleticism he can bring.
In the engine-room, the head coach is savouring the chance to reunite Swinson with Jim Hamilton. The pair made a considerable impact in Scotland’s Test against South Africa in Nelspruit last summer and injury to Swinson deprived them of rekindling that partnership in the autumn.
In the backs Johnson looks forward to his back three making their mark. “We can go the length with that back three. For a seasoned campaigner Sean Lamont has some leg still. His form over the last 24 months for us has been outstanding, especially his work off the ball. Like something in my wine cabinet he’s certainly getting better with age.”
Johnson is acutely aware that Scotland have not won their first game in the Championship since France were defeated at Murrayfield in 2006 and believes this selection can end that sequence.
Scotland team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Sunday 2 February in the RBS 6 Nations Championship, kick-off 3pm
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) 15 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
14 Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors) 8 caps, 1 try, 5 points
13 Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors) 3 caps, 1 try, 5 points
12 Duncan Taylor (Saracens) 6 caps
11 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) 82 caps, 12 tries, 60 points
10 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) 8 caps, 1 try, 2 conversions, 9 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) 24 caps, 3 tries, 23 conversions, 54 penalties, 223 points
1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) 13 caps
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) 71 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
3 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) 23 caps
4 Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) 3 caps
5 Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) 50 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) 4 caps
7 Kelly Brown (Saracens) CAPTAIN 60 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
8 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) 17 caps
16 Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors) 3 caps
17 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) 30 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
18 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) 23 caps, 1 try, 5 points
19 Richie Gray (Castres) 33 caps, 1 try, 5 points
20 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) 26 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
21 Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) 64 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
22 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) 16 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
23 Max Evans (Castres) 37 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa). Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa) and Mike Fraser (New Zealand). TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)