Finn Russell should win his 50th cap for Scotland against Georgia on Friday but it wil be off the bench as the stand-off makes his return to an international game-day 23 for the first time since the Rugby World Cup.
Russell officially ended his estrangement from the national squad this week after walking out of the pre-Six Nations camp in February. Having played for club Racing 92 in the Heineken Cup final on Saturday and returning to a shortened training week on Sunday night, he was not expected to start against Georgia and Adam Hastings continues as head coach Gregor Townsend’s starting 10 for now.
Edinburgh’s Duhan van der Merwe will start on his debut as Townsend uses the first game of the six-match Autumn schedule at a fan-less Murrayfield to introduce just a couple of fresh faces.
Harlequins’ James Lang, whose opportunities since his two caps on the summer tour of 2018 have been limited due to injury, will start his first home test in the centre, while Glasgow prop Oli Kebble should make his debut off the bench.
Fraser Brown is captain in the absence of Stuart Hogg – who with Jonny Gray is playing for Exeter in the English Premiership final this weekend – while Jamie Ritchie is named vice-captain for the first time. Fellow former Strathallan School pupil Matt Fagerson will make his first start at home at No 8.
“We wanted to put out our strongest team available and build that cohesion straight away,” said Townsend. “We’ve had a week and a half of training but nothing beats a game to see where you are and how up to speed you are with the rugby we’ve been training.”
Russell had been out of Scotland’s training regime for a year and needed to catch up, Townsend added.
“Finn’s integrated well, he took part in the session on Monday and trained yesterday. In training you see his skill level and it’s probably moved on a couple of notches since last time he was in the group.
“He’ll get up to speed pretty quickly and it’s exciting to see him back in the squad.”
As for van der Merwe, Townsend had been impressed with the powerful wing as a player and person in his week and a half with the squad.
“He’s been very committed and receptive on what we’re trying to do in attack and defence, and he’s a really good man, integrated well into the group off the field,” said the coach.
“We’ve enjoyed seeing him train and we want to see him on the ball. If he can get up to double figure carries, that’s going to be good for us as a team.”
Team: Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), James Lang (Harlequins), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh); Adam Hastings (Glasgow), Ali Price (Glasgow); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow, capt), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow); Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow).
Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Rob Harley (Glasgow), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Cornell du Preez (Worcester), George Horne (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Racing 92)