Rugby-Watson back for Scotland in strong side to face French

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Autumn International - Scotland v Japan - BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain - November 20, 2021 Scotland's Hamish Watson in action with Japan's Michael Leitch Reuters/Russell Cheyne

EDINBURGH (Reuters) -Scotland's Hamish Watson returns for a first run out in this year’s Six Nations as coach Gregor Townsend on Friday named a strong lineup for Sunday’s clash with holders France in Paris.

Flanker Watson is the only change to the team that beat Wales 35-7 at Murrayfield in their second game a fortnight ago – the first time since 1996 that they had won their opening two matches of a Six Nations tournament. He replaces Luke Crosbie.

Watson was concussed in November’s test against New Zealand. Although he made a comeback at club level before the Six Nations kick off, the 31-year-old was left out of the Scotland side in favour of Crosbie to allow more time for recovery.

“We think Hamish is back to his full fitness and he’s played with real speed in his two games for Edinburgh, and we obviously know what Hamish has done for us in the past," Townsend said.

"We know he’ll grab the opportunity. It’s tough on Luke Crosbie who has played well in those two games but we feel that it's right for Hamish to come back for such a big game."

Townsend made two changes on the bench where there will be six forwards and two backs for what is expected to be a physical encounter at the Stade de France.

Sam Skinner and Ali Price have been added to the list of replacements but Chris Harris, who played at centre for the British & Irish Lions in South Africa in 2021, has been left out of the matchday 23.

"The 6-2 split is not something we go to very often but France have done that in their last five to six games and it’s a little bit about matching up what they might do," explained Townsend.

Former skipper Stuart Hogg is set for his 99th Scottish cap and is one of eight starters who remain from the team that won 27-23 on their last trip to Paris two years ago.

"There’s an excitement about the challenges ahead of us and the opportunities, but also a determination," added Townsend, whose side beat England at Twickenham in their opener.

"We can play much better than we did in the first two games and we know our performance will have to improve if we are going to get a win in Paris," said the Scotland coach.

Scotland, who are second in the table behind Ireland on points difference, have not won the Six Nations since 1999. France are in fourth place after beating Italy in their first match and losing to 32-19 to Ireland last time out.


15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Kyle Steyn, 13-Huw Jones, 12-Sione Tuipulotu, 11-Duhan van der Merwe, 10-Finn Russell, 9-Ben White, 8-Matt Fagerson, 7-Hamish Watson, 6-Jamie Ritchie (capt.), 5-Grant Gilchrist, 4-Richie Gray, 3-Zander Fagerson, 2-George Turner, 1-Pierre Schoeman

Replacements: 16-Fraser Brown, 17-Jamie Bhatti, 18-WP Nel, 19-Jonny Gray, 20-Sam Skinner 21-Jack Dempsey, 22-Ali Price, 23-Blair Kinghorn, 23-Chris Harris

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Kim Coghill and Ken Ferris)

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