Guinness Six Nations Championship
Haining set for Dublin debut as Townsend rings changes
Nick Haining: chance (pic: SNS Group)
Edinburgh No. 8 Nick Haining will make his Scotland debut in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin as Gregor Townsend looks to banish the memories of a poor World Cup.
Haining is one of ten changes to the starting XV which ran out against Japan in the Scots’ final match of the tournament in October.
He anchors an all-Edinburgh back-row with fit-again openside Hamish Watson back in the side with returning blindside Jamie Ritchie. Magnus Bradbury misses out with a thigh strain.
Glasgow Warriors lock Scott Cummings earns the chance to start his championship debut alongside clubmate and second-row stalwart Jonny Gray.
Hooker Fraser Brown retains his place at the centre of the front-row and is flanked by in-form props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland, the latter featuring for the first time since the 2016 summer tour.
Captain Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) and Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson are the only players retained in a back division that sees Glasgow scrum-half Ali Price and Saracens wing Sean Maitland start in place of recent international retirees Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour.
Stand-off Adam Hastings replaces Finn Russell for his first championship start alongside fellow-Warrior Price, with the returning outside-centre Huw Jones – alongside Johnson in midfield – adding further familiarity to the back division from the Scotstoun club.
Edinburgh back Blair Kinghorn starts in place of injured winger Darcy Graham (knee) to complete the back-three with Hogg and Maitland.
The Scots have been putting the finishing touches to their preparations at a training camp in Spain and Townsend said: “We have managed to cover a lot of work in the two weeks we’ve been together and we’ve been impressed with how our players have taken on information and bonded as a team.
“Our goal is always to play to our potential. The challenge to do this starts on Saturday against Ireland.
“Playing to our potential starts with our collective mindset. That means being alert, focused and resilient right from the beginning, to be ready for the physical battle that lies ahead and able to stay in the fight throughout the 80 minutes.
“We must be a relentless collective on the pitch and a nightmare for the Irish to deal with, while having the ability and awareness to impose our game at that intensity.”
Scotland’s last win on Irish soil came some ten years ago, while Ireland, who have lost just one home Test in the championship in the past five years, emerged comfortable victors in their World Cup group clash.
Kick-off at the Aviva Stadium is 4.45pm.
Hogg (capt; Exeter Chiefs); Maitland (Saracens), Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Kinghorn (Edinburgh); Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Price (Glasgow Warriors); Sutherland (Edinburgh), Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Z Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), J Gray (Glasgow Warriors); J Ritchie (Edinburgh), Watson (Edinburgh), Haining (Edinburgh).
Replacements: McInally (Edinburgh), Dell (London Irish), Berghan (Edinburgh), Toolis (Edinburgh), Du Preez (Worcester Warriors), G Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Hutchinson (Northampton Saints), Harris (Gloucester).