Scotland, England surprise with Six Nations sides

International
AFP
by AFP

Ali Price's impressive performances for Scotland last November at scrum-half earns him the starting spot ahead of former captain Greig Laidlaw for their opening Six Nations match with Wales on  Saturday.

The 23-year-old Price, born in England but who qualifies for Scotland through his mother, will win his 12th cap while Laidlaw, who is nine years older, has to be satisfied with a place on the bench.

Laidlaw, whose role as captain is retained by flanker John Barclay, has only just returned to club duty with French giants Clermont after several months out with a broken fibula.

Elsewhere Chris Harris gets his first start and partners Huw Jones in the centres whilst Namibia-born wing Byron McGuigan is another to benefit from an impressive November series to retain his place on the wing.

Ali Price impressed in November. Photo: Getty ImagesThe area where the Scots may be exposed is in the front row as injuries have robbed head coach Gregor Townsend of some of his experienced hands and the trio who start have just 50 caps between them with 27 of those belonging to Gordon Reid.

However, Townsend understandably upbeat after a November series that saw them thump Australia and go close to a remarkable victory over world champions New Zealand, is confident his team can justify their dark horses tag for their first ever Six Nations crown by getting off to a good start.

"We've selected a squad that we believe can start the championship with the intensity and speed required to win in Cardiff," said Townsend, who is bidding to become the first Scots coach to experience a win in Cardiff since 2002

"Last year's championship highlighted that every game is a fierce competition and that all teams have to play at their very best to win away from home."Delivering that level of performance has been firmly in our thoughts during our preparations this week."

Meanwhile, Alec Hepburn is in line to make his England debut when the Six Nations champions begin their title defence against Italy in Rome on Sunday.Alec Hepburn is in line to get his first England cap. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Exeter prop was included in a 25-man squad announced by coach Eddie Jones on Wednesday and appears to destined to provide loosehead cover off the bench for Mako Vunipola.

With the front row one of the most gruelling areas on the field, many props don't last a full 80 minutes and that means Hepburn may well feature at some stage during a Stadio Olimpico clash where the Azzurri will be searching for their first Test win against England.

Hepburn is effectively England's sixth-choice loosehead prop but the suspension of Joe Marler as well as injuries to Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and Beno Obano have given the 25-year-old an unexpected chance with England.

But the experienced trio of fullback Mike Brown, flanker Chris Robshaw and powerhouse forward Maro Itoje have all overcome their respective injury problems.

Australian coach Jones, who has won 22 of his 23 Tests in charge of England, is due to name his starting XV on Friday before the squad fly out to Rome later that day.

TEAMS

Scotland side to face Wales

1. Gordon Reid

2. Stuart McInally

3. Jon Welsh

4. Ben Toolis

5. Jonny Gray

6. John Barclay (C)

7. Hamish Watson

8. Cornell Du Preez

9. Ali Price

10. Finn Russell

11. Byron McGuigan

12. Huw Jones

13. Chris Harris

14. Tommy Seymour

15. Stuart Hogg

Reserves

16. Scott Lawson

17. Jamie Bhatti

18. Murray McCallum

19. Grant Gilchrist

20. Ryan Wilson

21. Greig Laidlaw

22. Pete Horne

23. Sean Maitland

England 25-man squad to face Italy

Backs

Back three: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Nathan Earle (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester), Anthony Watson (Bath)

Inside backs: Danny Care (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Jack Nowell (Exeter), Ben Te'o (Worcester), Ben Youngs (Leicester)

Forwards

Back five: George Graham (Newcastle), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Sam Underhill (Bath)

Front row: Dan Cole (Leicester), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Alec Hepburn (Exeter), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter)