Tryscoring hero Darcy Graham has kept his place in Scotland’s starting line-up for Saturday’s final Guinness Six Nations Test, against England, at Twickenham (live on ITV).
The former Hawick player scored Scotland’s only try when he made his first full appearance last Saturday against Wales at BT Murrayfield, and takes his place this weekend in the back line at number 14, alongside Sean Maitland and Nick Grigg.
Fellow Borders player Greig Laidlaw, from Jedburgh, starts again on the bench, as he did last week against the Welsh. He joined the action on that occasion with around 15 minutes remaining – ironically, in place of the injured Graham.
Head coach Gregor Townsend, formerly of Gala, has made half a dozen changes to the starting XV which travels to Middlesex in defence of the Calcutta Cup trophy they lifted for the first time in 10 years at BT Murrayfield last year – with a victory in west London escaping the Scots in each of the biennial times of asking since 1983.
Townsend said: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.
“The character and fitness the players displayed showed, in the second half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.
“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times, against Wales, we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough, so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”
He continued: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the championship.
“They have shown a different game plan this season, which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.
“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them, and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.”
Scotland’s team changes are split evenly between the backs and forwards and see English Premiership pair Sean Maitland (Saracens) and Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) start in place of back-three counterparts Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour – both injured in last weekend’s loss to Wales – alongside Darcy Graham.
The alterations to the back division are completed by Glasgow Warriors inside-centre Sam Johnson, who starts his fourth Test of the tournament in place of clubmate Peter Horne.
Johnson partners fellow Warrior Nick Grigg in midfield, with half-backs Finn Russell and Ali Price start once again.
The starting back-row features two of the three pack changes where Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson will earn his 25th cap in place of Jamie Ritchie, who has not recovered sufficiently from the head / neck injury sustained against Wales to feature this weekend.
Exeter Chiefs forward Sam Skinner – injured in the opening round win over Italy – returns to blindside flank in place of Sale Sharks’ Josh Strauss – who moves to the bench – with Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury moving to the national number 8 position for the first time.
The last change sees Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis start in place of Jonny Gray – who moves to the bench – alongside clubmate Grant Gilchrist to form an all-Edinburgh tight five with returning front-row forwards Allan Dell, captain Stuart McInally and Willem Nel, meaning all but one of the starting pack hails from the capital club.
Newcastle Falcons back Chris Harris marks his return from the calf injury he sustained representing his club in the fallow week of the tournament with a place on the most experienced bench to be named by Townsend this campaign.
“It’s good to have Sean Maitland back in the back-three alongside Darcy Graham and Byron McGuigan, who both played well last weekend,” said Townsend. “These three players, and the team as a whole, will have to put in a lot of work off the ball to counter this threat on Saturday.”
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland (Saracens), 14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), 13 Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors), 12 Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), 11 Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), 10 Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), 1 Allan Dell (Edinburgh), 2 Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), 3 Willem Nel (Edinburgh), 4 Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), 5 Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), 6 Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), 7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), 8 Magnus Bradbury. Substitutes: 16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), 17 Gordon Reid (London Irish), 18 Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), 19 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), 20 Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks), 21 Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), 22 Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), 23 Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons).