Gregor Townsend has responded to last weekend’s thrashing at the hands of Wales by making six changes to his Scotland line-up ahead of facing France on Sunday.
The Dark Blues had hopes of making a NatWest 6 Nations title bid this season but got off a dismal start with a 34-7 defeat in Cardiff.
Now Townsend hopes he will get a response after recalling former skipper Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half as well as centre Peter Horne, wing Sean Maitland, prop Simon Berghan, lock Grant Gilchrist and number eight Ryan Wilson.
Ali Price – whose intercepted pass handed Gareth Davies the crucial opening score at the Principality Stadium – makes way for Laidlaw as he is joined on the bench by last week’s starters Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis and
Chris Harris. Cornell du Preez and the injured Byron McGuigan drop out of the 23-man squad.
Townsend said: “As a group we’re delighted to be playing at home in front of another sell-out crowd at BT Murrayfield and are looking forward to putting in a performance that can energise our supporters.
“To do that we need to out-work the opposition and be more accurate in a number of aspects of our play.
“We’ve seen a response from the players in training this week and that needs to continue into and through the 80-plus minutes of the match because France will pose a massive and immensely-physical challenge.”
Last weekend the Six Nations got off to a flier with a round of matches full of incident and talking points.
As we enter week two, France and Scotland will be hoping to get off the mark, Ireland will want a more convincing performance against Italy, and England v Wales could be a blockbuster.
Here are the key battles ahead of the fixtures.
IRELAND V ITALY
On the face of things this should be damage limitation for Italy, with Ireland far too strong for them despite not exactly impressing in France next week.
The only real hope Italy have is in trying to suppress Ireland’s superb territorial game. This will demand an intense shift from the forwards limiting the amount of clean ball for Conor Murray, and ultimately Jonny Sexton.
When the ball does come out, the Italians’ defence needs to be on point. The rush needs to be in place to limit time on the ball, with an umbrella defence in place to try and stop the ball going out wide and the game becoming stretched.
A tall order for 80 minutes.
ENGLAND V WALES
It would be easy to point towards the two back rows in this one as that will be a battle of prodigious proportion. However, it is the clashes out wide that are likely to make or break things.
Anthony Watson and Jonny May versus Steff Evans and Josh Adams is one to make the mouth water to say the least. A brace from Watson in Rome and the evasive, languid running style of May helped England to a comfortable win against the Italians, and they will be a constant threat.
Watson is a superb all round athlete with stunning finishing power, while May has a genuine x-factor about him.
Evans and Adams may not have the caps of Watson and May, but they are the talk of the town in Wales. Evans has been lighting up the wings for Scarlets for the last couple of seasons and now, given his break, is showing the potential to do it on the international stage – his work-rate against Scotland was incredible, capped off by a picture-book try.
Adams may not have hit the same heights in Cardiff but is the top scorer in the Premiership and showed glimpses of the pace and power that has got him to that level. We know they can all attack, but it may just come down to those who can defend better on the day.
SCOTLAND V FRANCE
On the back of disappointing losses for very different reasons, both sides will be looking to get their campaigns on track at Murrayfield.
Set-piece is going to be critical to securing clean ball, and this is particularly true at scrum time.
Scotland’s injury woes when it comes to props has been well documented, but in Cardiff it was not until late that Wales were able to really assert domination, which will have been heartening for Gregor Townsend on an otherwise grim day.
Facing them on Sunday is a tight-head that can be considered to be one of the best around in Rabah Slimani. If he can turn the screw in the scrum then it could be a very long afternoon for the Scots.
Emphatic wins by both teams in the opening round has elevated the excitement surrounding the NatWest 6 Nations showdown at Twickenham and the clash between Itoje and Jones will among the duels taking centre stage.
The pair grew close on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand after rooming together for two weeks and their bond has led to a public exchange of ribbing centred on cocoa butter and baldness.
“We got on very well during the Lions tour, although his musical tastes are very different to mine,” Saracens second row Itoje said.
“He let his hair down. I’m fortunate enough to have quite long, free-flowing hair. He’s severely balding, but I think he’s come to terms with that now.”
In response to Jones’ complaint over his refusal to share his cocoa butter, Itoje replied: “First of all he didn’t ask and secondly he doesn’t use it. He’ll be all right.”
Itoje and Jones are at contrasting stages off their international careers, the Englishman’s 18 caps comparing unfavourably with the 123 held by his rival from Wales.
“Alun’s very professional, trains hard and is diligent with his preparation,” Itoje said.
“Obviously going on tour you spend time with the other home nations and you pick up things. The Welsh players are like this, the Irish players are like that etc etc.
“Alun has a good work rate and works very hard. He’s a nice guy as well. I got on very well with him on tour. It was a good experience.
“I know him better because I played with him and I’ve played against him twice already this season when Saracens played the Ospreys.
“But that isn’t even in the slightest bit difficult for me. It’s a completely different setting, different team, different environment.”
The Lions tour also offered Itoje the chance to work under Warren Gatland, the long-serving Wales coach who is plotting England’s downfall this weekend.
“Warren is very experienced and he’s a good coach,” Itoje said.
“He gives his teams confidence and I’m sure he will give his Welsh team a lot of confidence this week – especially after their game against Scotland.
“The rivalry with Wales is big. This was my first start a couple of years back, so the whole magnitude of that occasion was massive.
“There will be a lot of passion. It will be intense. It will be physical. It is a great game to be a part of and I’m sure Twickenham will be rocking.”