Gregor Townsend has resisted the urge to make sweeping changes to his Scotland team that will head to Dublin on Saturday looking to salvage their Six Nations after defeat to Italy.  

Townsend has recalled Ben White at scrum-half after resting the Toulon man for the trip to Rome, while Stafford McDowall will make his first Six Nations start as he replaces Cam Redpath at inside centre. Both Horne and Repdath are on the bench, but there’s no place in the 23 for former captain Jamie Ritchie.  

McDowall’s inclusion caps a huge turnaround in his career. The Glasgow Warriors centre previously said he was preparing for his Scotstoun release and to begin working on the family’s dairy farm in Dumfries.  

Townsend praised the 26-year-old for the way he’s responded.  

He said: "He wasn’t going to get a contract extension two-and-a-half years ago and I remember stories coming out of Glasgow that he was going to offer himself to play at Ayr and still come in and train.  

“He usually wins the fitness tests at the beginning of the year and works so hard to improve his game. It is great to see that effort get rewarded.  

“He’s a much more all-round player than he was two or three years ago. That is a credit to him. He is always working on his kicking game and passing, and really embraced the defensive work that we do here, and that has grown too. 

Scotland Rugby News: McDowall will make his first Scotland start on SaturdayMcDowall will make his first Scotland start on Saturday (Image: SNS)

“He’s also grown in confidence. That comes from playing more regularly, just as you grow older as well, and also being given the captaincy at Glasgow has, I think, been a massive boost.” 

He believes McDowall’s physicality can help Scotland against the Irish midfield of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshsaw.  

Townsend said: “Both Robbie Henshaw and Bundee play direct, they also play a lot through their forwards with a close passing game.  

“Stafford brings his own strengths – one of them is his physicality and the weight he brings into his tackles and his carries.” 

Townsend insists he believes the decision to leave White out of the side for the trip to Rome was the right one, despite him being Scotland’s first choice scrum-half for much of the past 12 months.  

The scrum-half was left out of the World Cup pool decider against Ireland, but gets an opportunity to play against Andy Farrell’s team at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. 

Townsend said he felt “something had to give” with White travelling between Scotland camp and his club side Toulon during the fallow weeks of the championship.  

The Scotland coach added: "He was a but run down last week as well – he’s also had a couple of niggling injuries and played every weekend except from one since October – it would have been very tough for him to play in that game last week and play well this week.” 

Lions prop Rory Sutherland has earned a recall on the bench having only joined the squad before the Italy match.

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Townsend confirmed his form for Oyonnax has won him the bench spot ahead of Alec Hepburn, who has featured in every game of the championship after debuting against Wales. Townsned confirmed neither Hepburn or Jamie Ritchie are injured.  


Of Sutherland he said: “With Oyannax he played two games back-to-back, and he played very well. He scrummed well and carried hard, so him playing and playing well got him back into the squad.” 

And on Ritchie’s omission, Townsend explained: “Jamie is purely to do with the change from a 6/2 to a 5/4 split on the bench. I thought he did well off the bench, but we just feel Matt and the way he comes off the bench and gets on ball is a better option this week. So purely selection on that one.” 

Scotland are still in with an outside shot at the title. They’d need a win by 39 clear points, and to deny Ireland any match points, then hope France beat England, to get their hands on the trophy. To say it is unlikely might be an exaggeration. 

The title might be out of Scotland's reach, Townsend knows there is still the incentive of a first Triple Crown since 1990 up for grabs. 

Scotland Rugby News: Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend knows the challenge that awaits in DublinScotland head coach Gregor Townsend knows the challenge that awaits in Dublin (Image: SNS)

He added: “Obviously titles are more important than other trophies but the other trophies you play for can mean a lot to your supporters. The Calcutta Cup for example means a huge amount to our supporters. The Triple Crown has been part of history.  

“It is a trophy we are playing for, but the bigger motivator is for to put a performance in that will test Ireland because if we don’t put that performance in, we are not going to win at the weekend.” 

Townsend has never beaten Ireland in his seven years in charge of Scotland, but he believes his side have shown they are capable of big away wins having ended long winless streaks in Cardiff, at Twickenham and in Paris in recent years.  

He added: “They have a bigger advantage over us in that they’ve beaten us and they’ve got evidence that they can take about on how to beat Scotland. And that’s a big challenge for us.  

“But this team has shown in winning away from home in Wales, Twickenham and Paris, that they can produce a massive performance regardless of what has gone on in history.  

“We need to deliver a performance that the guys have been working on over the last few weeks.”