SEAN Maitland has been handed his Scotland debut and Glasgow team-mate Dougie Hall is given his first start in six years as Scott Johnson today announced his team to face England in the Calcutta Cup match this weekend.
SCOTT Johnson has launched his tenure as Scotland head coach with an experienced pack and a very youthful back-line to challenge England and the weight of history at Twickenham.
But, with Kiwi winger Sean Maitland among the exciting new faces, the interim chief believes that he has a group of players who could restore pride in the Scottish team and turn around the slide in results in 2013. Making six changes to
the side that lost to Tonga in
November, Johnson has no concern about bringing Maitland straight in after five games for Glasgow and insisted that it was not a negative reflection on the Scottish game.
“We said we’d pick a team based on form and future and I certainly see Sean as being part of the future for Scotland,”
Johnson said. “He’s got a skill-set that I can’t coach. I’ll claim it when it works but the reality is that he can do things that we can’t do. He comes from a good pedigree from the south and is a valuable acquisition for Scotland.
“Trust me, it won’t be perfect, but no game is. The reality is that he’s a good part of our future moving forward. We can look so insular in Scotland. Look at New Zealand, the best rugby nation in the world, and the Tongans, Samoans and list of other island boys that have played for New Zealand. And let’s have a look at the team we’re playing on the weekend, with the largest population base of rugby players in the world, and they have a substantial number of non-English boys in that squad.
“That is the reality of the sport. Sean’s family is very proud of its Scottish history and he’s come because he’s a young man who wants to ply his trade and understands the history. He’s Scottish.”
Maitland has been welcomed into Scottish rugby with open arms for the reasons Johnson spelled out – he is a player with a blend of skills, notably speed, handling skills and decision-making, that no-one else can match in the Scottish game. In looking for an edge to bring about a new threat in the Scotland team, Johnson has selected one of the most promising attacking back threes Scotland have fielded in Maitland, Stuart Hogg at full-back and Tim Visser on the left wing, and believes that Greig Laidlaw will offer a fresh threat back in his more accustomed scrum-half berth.
England’s resurgence under Stuart Lancaster hit a momentous high with victory over the All Blacks. So Johnson’s new-look squad head into their opening championship match on Saturday as unfancied as any Scottish side that has travelled to London.
But Johnson insisted he had a few selection conundrums – notably in the back row where he opted for experience in a blend missing three openside choices in injured trio Ross Rennie, John Barclay and Chris Fusaro.
In the second row, the coach believes Gloucester skipper Jim Hamilton will give the team the power it needs in the set-piece, particularly in the first half, with Al Kellock primed for a second-half role. Johnson said those calls were extremely close but more straightforward was the choice at hooker. Ross Ford drops to the bench after four weeks recovering from shoulder nerve damage and Glasgow’s Dougie Hall is handed a start for the first time in six years, sending a strong message that reputations count for less than form.
“Dougie’s form with Glasgow has been very good and Ross hasn’t played for a substantial period of time,” explained Johnson. “So it’s a combination of the integrity in selection and understanding for Ross that it’s a good place to start again, off the bench.
“He’s a great player, Ross Ford, and we’re glad to have him back in reasonable fitness to play Test footie and he will really play an important part in the Six Nations campaign that we’re hoping to have.”
Former Crusaders wing Maitland replaces Sean Lamont on the right wing, with Lamont returning to outside centre for Max Evans and Evans dropping to the bench. Peter Horne, who was close to selection at inside centre, was likely to have offered a versatile option on the bench with Matt Scott holding on to the No 12 jersey. But the on-form Glasgow centre suffered a small thumb fracture in training last week, and he admitted to Johnson that he was not right for a first Test squad involvement.
Horne should be back in contention in a fortnight and Johnson said: “It’s a great sign of maturity and shows he’s a special lad, the fact that he made the call himself, because it’s an opportunity he would love to have had. And it was close.”
Elsewhere, Ryan Grant is the sole loosehead prop in the squad and Johnson would not say who would slot in on the left side of the scrum should he be injured.
Grant is preparing himself for a big scrummaging challenge and was also named vice-captain, along with Greig Laidlaw, which Johnson explained was the start of an apprenticeship he hoped would lead to both becoming Scotland leaders in the coming years.
Four days before his first Calcutta Cup match as Scotland coach, Johnson was quite relaxed until asked whether he felt his side would head to London tomorrow with little to lose.
“I’m fed up hearing that,” he said, revealing a glimpse of his desire. “We have got plenty to lose because we want a performance that people are proud of.
“We’re going into a Test match with 80,000 people watching live and so many millions around the world and we want to go down there and put on a good show.
“The scoreboard will look after itself if our performance is good but we have plenty to lose, as people and what we stand for.”
Scotland team in full
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) 10 caps, 1 try, 5 points
14 Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors) uncapped
13 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) 71 caps, 8 tries, 40 points
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) 7 caps
11 Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby) 5 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
10 Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) 15 caps, 2 conversions, 2 penalties, 2 drop-goals, 16 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) vice-captain 13 caps, 2 tries, 11 conversions and 22 penalties, 98 points
1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) vice-captain, 5 caps
2 Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors) 39 caps, 1 try, 5 points
3 Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) 49 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
4 Richie Gray (Sale Sharks) 27 caps, 1 try, 5 points
5 Jim Hamilton (Gloucester Rugby) 41 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) 30 caps, 1 try, 5 points
7 Kelly Brown (Saracens) captain, 52 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
8 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) 16 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
16 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) 63 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
17 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) 15 caps
18 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) 17 caps, 1 try, 5 points
19 Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors) 47 caps, 1 try, 5 points
20 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) 9 caps
21 Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) 3 caps, 1 try, 5 points
22 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) 2 caps, 1 conversion, 2 points
23 Max Evans (Castres) 32 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).
Assistant referees: Jerome Garces (France) and Francisco Pastrana (Argentina).
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)