FORMER Melrose back row star Kelly Brown is all set to make his return, from injury, to the Scotland 1st XV for his 50th cap and as captain for the first time.
Brown will be joined in the starting line-up by fellow Borderers Stuart Hogg (Hawick), Greig Laidlaw (Jed-Forest), Ross Ford (Kelso), Geoff Cross (Gala).
Andy Robinson has made five changes from the team that completed a 100% winning record in Australasia during the summer for their first match of the season, Sunday’s EMC Test against New Zealand at Murrayfield.
The changes made from the team that rounded off the Southern Hemisphere tour with a last-gasp win against Samoa – following on earlier successes against Australia and Fiji – see Nick De Luca return for the injured Joe Ansbro at centre; Mike Blair, who had a superb game off the bench in Apia, start instead of the recuperating Chris Cusiter; and Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton and captain Kelly Brown appear in the pack instead of Euan Murray, Alastair Kellock and Richie Vernon.
There are first international starts at Murrayfield for Edinburgh Rugby backs Matt Scott and Tim Visser and Glasgow Warriors prop Ryan Grant.
Lock Richie Gray has made good progress from his ankle injury sustained on club duty last month and is listed, subject to a fitness test later this week.
On the bench, Glasgow Warriors’ uncapped 23-year-old scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, is rewarded for his fine form in recent weeks with a first-ever involvement in a Scotland match-day squad.
Robinson commented: “For our first game of the season we will really need to start well and keep the game simple.
“New Zealand are the world champions and they perform the basic skills, well, under the highest pressure.
“We need to step up from the summer tour and be ready to go toe to toe in a physical contest, just as Australia did most recently against New Zealand in Brisbane.
“Congratulations to Kelly Brown who will captain Scotland for the first time and will join distinguished company in winning his 50th cap.”
Brown is the 32nd Scot to reach the milestone of 50 caps.
Scotland team (sponsor RBS) to play New Zealand in the EMC Test at Murrayfield on Sunday, kick-off 2.30pm: Stuart Hogg; Sean Lamont, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser; Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Ross Rennie, Kelly Brown. Subs: Scott Lawson, Allan Jacobsen, Kyle Traynor, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans.