Scotland team to play Ireland: Two changes for Six Nations clash, back-row switch, Stuart Hogg hits milestone

Hamish Watson has dropped out of Scotland’s starting team for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match with Ireland at BT Murrayfield.

Jack Dempsey comes into the side at No 8 in a reshaped back row which sees Matt Fagerson moved to blindside flanker and captain Jamie Ritchie switched to openside. It’s one of two personnel changes made by head coach Gregor Townsend. The other is the promotion from bench to starting XV of Jonny Gray, who replaces the suspended Grant Gilchrist and will partner his older brother Richie in the second row.

Townsend has picked the same backline for the fourth Six Nations game in a row, an unprecedented state of affairs for the coach, which means Stuart Hogg will win his 100th Scoland cap. There is a return to a 5-3 split of forwards and backs on the bench where there is a first call-up in this championship for Scott Cummings. The Glasgow Warriors forward will provide second-row cover after recovering from a long-term foot injury. WP Nel is not included among the substitutes, with Simon Berghan named as replacement tighthead. Sam Skinner also drops out of the squad. Watson is on the bench. Ali Price retains his place as reserve scrum-half and there is also a return to the squad for Chris Harris who is among the replacements.

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Scotland have not beaten Ireland in Townsend’s tenure as head coach and a win on Sunday would give the home team the Triple Crown for the first time in 33 years. Ireland can clinch the Six Nations title at Murrayfield if they win and other results go their way on Saturday.

‘Townsend turns to recast back row to finally beat Ireland’

Ireland have held the whip hand over Scotland in recent years and you have to go back to the Vern Cotter era for the last Scottish victory. They are the only Six Nations team Gregor Townsend has failed to get the better of during his reign and the coach has recast his back row in an attempt to break the bad run.

The dynamic Jack Dempsey comes in at No 8 for his first start of the championship after appearances off the bench against England, Wales and France. The Glasgow Warriors man is a real threat with ball in hand and his inclusion sees Matt Fagerson switched to six and Jamie Ritchie seven. Hamish Watson is the man to drop out, continuing what has been an unlucky tournament for the Edinburgh player. He missed the opening two games as he recovered from a concussion, then started against France but was substituted after 10 minutes when Grant Gilchrist’s red card forced Townsend to sacrifice him in order to bring on Jonny Gray to fill the void in the second row.

Gray’s inclusion in the starting side is no surprise given Gilchrist is suspended. He will win his 76th cap, becoming one of Scotland’s top ten most capped players.

Back-row Jack Dempsey comes into the Scotland XV for the Six Nations match against Ireland.Back-row Jack Dempsey comes into the Scotland XV for the Six Nations match against Ireland.
Back-row Jack Dempsey comes into the Scotland XV for the Six Nations match against Ireland.

It will be a landmark day for Stuart Hogg who will be making his 100th appearance for Scotland. He scored two tries in the last win over Ireland, in 2017, and a repeat performance would be the perfect way to mark his century.

Scotland team to play Ireland, Guinness Six Nations, BT Murrayfield, Sunday, 3pm, live on BBC 1): 15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); 14. Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors), 13. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), 12. Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors), 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh); 10. Finn Russell (Racing 92), 9. Ben White (London Irish); 1. Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), 2. George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), 3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), 4. Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), 5. Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), 6. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), 7. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), 8. Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors). Replacements: 16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), 17. Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), 18. Simon Berghan (Glasgow Warriors), 19. Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), 20. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), 21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), 22. Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), 23. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby).