Russell returns as Scotland bench Laidlaw for Wales

Edinburgh (AFP) –


Finn Russell is set to make his Scotland return against Wales after being included in coach Gregor Townsend's starting XV for Saturday's Six Nations international at Murrayfield.

But former Scotland playmaker Townsend has dropped regular captain Greig Laidlaw to the bench, with Ali Price taking over at scrum-half in a side now skippered by hooker Stuart McInally following the team's poor showing in a disappointing 27-10 loss away to France last time out.

Fly-half Russell was missed greatly by the Scots that match, having been ruled out with a head injury suffered while playing for Paris-based club side Racing 92.

Russell has replaced Pete Horne in the No 10 shirt, with Horne moved to inside centre instead of Sam Johnson.

Townsend has made four personnel changes in total to the team beaten in Paris.

In addition to the new half-back pairing, 21-year-old Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham is set for a first start after Sean Maitland was ruled out with a foot injury.

The only change to the pack sees tighthead prop Willem Nel, fit following a foot problem, come in to form an all-Edinburgh front row with McInally and loosehead Allan Dell.

- 50 up for Seymour and Gray -

Saturday's match will see wing Tommy Seymour and second row Jonny Gray both winning their 50th caps for Scotland.

"Getting to 50 caps for your country is a milestone in a player's career and it underlines the consistency and quality both Tommy and Jonny have delivered for Scotland over the years," said Townsend.

"Tommy has started all his games and has an impressive try-scoring record (19 in 49 Tests), which is a fundamental element of the game for a winger.

"As well as his finishing ability, his excellent work rate off-the-ball and outstanding aerial skills have been the key reasons why he's reached a half century of appearances for Scotland."

Turning to the 24-year-old Gray, he added: "Jonny is an exceptional player who came through as a young man and, by becoming the second-youngest player to win 50 caps, shows just how well he's played in that relatively short time.

"He has a phenomenal work rate, is a very accurate tackler and takes real pride in helping the team prepare, as well as continually looking for ways to improve his own game."

Scotland are eager for a win after successive defeats this Six Nations by Ireland and France but they will be up against a Wales side going for a Grand Slam.

But Townsend said his side had it in them to cause an upset, just as they had done in beating England 25-13 at Murrayfield last year.

"Wales have a very good record against us and are in excellent form," said Townsend.

"It's a similar challenge to the one we faced last year against England, who had also been on a very good run of results in their preceding games.

"We rose to the challenge that day and found a way to win and I firmly believe we can reach that level of performance once again on Saturday."

Wales coach Warren Gatland named his side on Tuesday.

But Wales' preparations have been overshadowed by the ongoing uncertainty caused by this week's bitter collapse of a move to merge the Ospreys and the Scarlets regional sides as part of an overall plan to restructure the Welsh professional club game.

Scotland (15-1)

Blair Kinghorn; Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Pete Horne, Darcy Graham; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Josh Strauss, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury; Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Willem Nel, Stuart McInally (capt), Allan Dell

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Hamish Watson, Greig Laidlaw, Adam Hastings, Byron McGuigan