Gregor Townsend challenges dropped Scotland duo to win place back as Huw Jones hailed a 'quality defender'
Ben White has been picked at scrum-half for Scotland’s Six Nations opener, with Price not even on the bench, while Huw Jones has been preferred to Harris at outside centre, with the latter named among the replacements.
There is no place in the squad for prop Zander Fagerson or flanker Hamish Watson after long injury lay-offs but full-back Stuart Hogg and winger Duhan van der Merwe both start after recovering from heel and ankle problems, respectively. Kyle Steyn gets the nod on the other wing, replacing the injured Darcy Graham.
Watson’s absence opens the door for Luke Crosbie to make his first Six Nations appearance in what will be his second start for Scotland, reward for his excellent form for Edinburgh. Fagerson, who has started 11 of Scotland’s last 12 Tests, is replaced by WP Nel, with Simon Berghan providing tighthead cover on the bench.
The absence of Price and Harris from the starting XV is a major surprise. They have been trusted lieutenants for Townsend since the 2019 Rugby World Cup and both were Scotland vice-captains during the Autumn Nations Series.
Price has struggled for game-time at Glasgow Warriors this season, kept out of the starting XV by the form of George Horne who has been named on the bench for Twickenham. “It’s probably affected Ali that he’s not played as much, and at the weekend it was good to see him back starting [for Glasgow against Dragons] and playing well,” said Townsend. “He’s now got to build on that in our training, which he has been doing this week.
“We chatted a week ago about how it was important he improved, whether that was just through training or getting game time with Glasgow at the weekend. He’s very aware of that too. Non-selection can motivate you in two ways: it can get you more disappointed or it can give you a reaction to say ‘OK, I’m not close to my best and sometimes I won’t get to play’, but we’re already seeing that reaction from Ali and I’m sure he’ll be back to his best very soon. We backed him in the autumn when he played four Tests for us and he improved during those four Tests but this time he’s missed out. We believe we’ll see a reaction and get Ali back to his best for the rest of the campaign.”
Townsend’s decision to drop Price was aided by the impressive form of White, the London Irish scrum-half who scored a superb try in this fixture last season after coming off the bench. “It shows the level of competition, not just in that position but lots of positions,” said the coach. “We have gone for players in really good form. Ben’s been really consistent ever since he came into our squad. He’s started the majority of games for London Irish this year. His kicking game is outstanding, he’s very competitive and he’s grown in confidence, so there’s someone in form who can play the game we want to play.”
On the face of it, the selection of Jones ahead of Harris looks like an attacking gambit but Townsend went out of his way to praise the former’s defensive capabilities while also noting his recent fine form at Glasgow alongside Sione Tuipulotu who he will partner in the centre at Twickenham.
“Huw and Chris bring different strengths,” he said. “One thing we have been really pleased with is Huw’s defence. You have to be a quality defender to play test match rugby. In that position you are tested as much if not more than any other position on the field. Huw has done really well and he has obviously played with Sione in the last two or three games so there is cohesion there. But we know Chris is a quality player who has played very well for us over the last few years. It is a challenge to Chris to play his best rugby while Huw now has this opportunity to keep the 13 jersey throughout the championship. We know that Chris is going to respond and has already responded. I'm sure he will have a big part to play in the game too.”
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