Blair Cowan straight into Scots side to face Springboks

Blair Cowan comes in at openside flanker
Blair Cowan comes in at openside flanker
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BLAIR Cowan has gone straight into the Scotland side for Saturday’s pivotal Rugby World Cup match against South Africa in Newcastle.

Head coach Vern Cotter has named Cowan at openside flanker in one of ten changes for the Pool B clash at St James’ Park.

Cowan was only called into the Scotland squad on Tuesday when injury ruled Grant Gilchrist out of the tournament.

The match comes too soon for John Hardie, who impressed at openside in the opening win over Japan then missed the USA game because of a head knock. He continues the return-to-play protocol.

As expected, Finn Russell misses out due to an ankle injury and Duncan Weir takes over at stand-off.

Prop Gordon Reid and centre Richie Vernon will both start their first match of the campaign in place Ryan Grant and Mark Bennett, while Edinburgh Rugby scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne could join them from the bench.

Three further changes have been made to the starting back division: captain Greig Laidlaw returns at scrum-half, where he’ll partner Weir.

Wing Tommy Seymour starts in place of Sean Maitland, where he’ll join Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg in the back-three – the latter the only player to start all three matches for Scotland thus far.

In the forwards hooker Fraser Brown gets the start that evaded him against USA, when a back-row injury forced a late rotation.

He is joined by try-scoring prop Willem Nel – who switches roles with Jon Welsh once again – while the rested Jonny Gray returns to start alongside brother Richie, in place of the injured Grant Gilchrist (groin).

The changes are completed by Josh Strauss, who moves to the blindside flank at the expense of Alasdair Strokosch, to accommodate number 8 David Denton.

Scotland lead the group on ten points following back-to-back bonus-point wins over Japan and USA, while the 2007 champions – and the Pool’s top seeds – South Africa, are just three adrift in second, having picked up maximum points against Samoa (5) and two bonus-points in their narrow loss to Japan.

The match between the two familiar foes could therefore be significant in determining the outcome of the group, before Scotland complete their Pool campaign against Samoa the following weekend at the same venue.

Cotter said: “This is a massive test for our team. Playing South Africa is one of the biggest challenges you can face as a rugby player.

“We’ll need to be very good on the day.”

Scotland team: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw (c); Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, Willem Nel, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Josh Strauss, Blair Cowan, David Denton. Subs: Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, Jon Welsh, Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Peter Horne, Sean Lamont