Scotland have dropped Finn Russell to the bench and will start Blair Kinghorn at 10 in the final Guinness Six Nations game against Ireland in Dublin.
Russell misses his first Scotland game since injury put him out of the Covid-tournament Autumn Nations Cup 18 months ago.
His performances since the victory over England in the first week of the championship have come under scrutiny, but no-one was expecting Kinghorn to be promoted in his place.
Kinghorn has played just 11 games at stand-off since the switch from full-back/wing to the pivotal role. He did start at 10 for Scotland against Tonga in November – prior to that, all his 25 previous caps were at full-back or wing.
‘We believe this the right time and the right game’
The Blair Switch Project reaches its zenith. https://t.co/ykSE7XwYm7
— Steve Scott (@C_SScott) March 17, 2022
“We see this as a really good opportunity for Blair,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “He’s in really good form. While he wasn’t available for our match last weekend, prior to that he’d played his best game of the season against Connacht.
“He’s come twice off the bench and shown what he can do in that jersey. He started for us this season against Tonga and played really well, he’s built on that performance. We believe this is the right time and the right game for him to play in.”
He said that Russell’s reaction had been like any player not selected – initially disappointed, but then supportive of both Kinghorn and the team.
“I prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and deserved this opportunity,” he said when asked about Russell’s form.
“We know Blair has done really well, deserves this opportunity, and the way we’re looking to play the game suits Blair’s strengths.”
Townsend has become particularly invested in the new role for the 25-year-old. But he stuck to the line that this was a selection on merit and not an experiment.
Gray returns, and the bench is given a shake-up
Gregor Townsend talks through his squad selection for Saturday as Blair Kinghorn and Jonny Gray return to the side. #AsOne
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 17, 2022
Elsewhere, Jonny Gray returns to the side in the second row with Sam Skinner unlucky to return to the bench. Mark Bennett, Josh Bayliss, Ben White and the experienced hooker Fraser Brown are all back on replacement duty.
Scotland have not won in Dublin since 2010. The Irish are going for a Triple Crown and potentially a championship if France slip up in Paris against England.
“Ireland have been very good,” said Townsend. “They were coming to the championship in great form. They play ambitious rugby and they’ve continued to do that.
“They’ve always been very strong around the contact area, setpiece, and now with this ambitious gameplan, they contest teams in the wider areas.
“They’ve been better in every game, even the game against France. They could have won that.
“For our selection, like any game, there’s a lot of thought in it. You always put out the team you feel has the best chance of winning. There’s no more to it than that.”
Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, capt); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors); Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh); Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell (London Irish), WP Nel (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Josh Bayliss (Bath), Ben White (London Irish), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Mark Bennett (Edinburgh)