Skinner to start against England
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs forward Sam Skinner is one of six changes Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made to his starting team to face England in this Saturday’s final Guinness Six Nations Test at Twickenham.
The 24-year-old comes back into the fray as the Scots look to not only defend the Calcutta Cup, but also claim a victory in West London for the first time since 1983.
Skinner - who injured an ankle in the opening Six Nations win against Italy - proved he was back to full fitness last weekend, helping the Chiefs to extend their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership with a 33-30 victory over Worcester Warriors.
He comes into the Scotland pack in place of Sale's Josh Strauss, whilst other changes up front see Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson earn his 25th cap in place of Jamie Ritchie and Ben Toolis is in for Jonny Gray at lock.
In the back division, Sean Maitland (Saracens) and former Chief Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) start in place of back-three counterparts Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour – both injured in last weekend’s loss to Wales – while Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson takes the place of club-mate Pete Horne.
Looking ahead to the challenge that awaits, Townsend said: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.
“The character and fitness the players displayed showed, in the second-half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.
“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times against Wales we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”
He continued: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the championship. They have shown a different game plan this season, which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.
“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them, and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.”
On Skinner's inclusion, Townsend added: “Both Sam Skinner and Ben Toolis started for us against Italy and deserve another opportunity to show what they can do in a blue jersey. Sam [Skinner] brings a lot of set-piece nous and gives us good balance in the back-row."
Scotland team to play England
15. Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 39 caps
14. Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) – 3 caps
13. Nick Grigg (Glasgow Warriors) – 8 caps
12. Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) – 3 caps
11. Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) – 7 caps
10. Finn Russell (Racing 92) – 43 caps
9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 23 caps
1. Allan Dell (Edinburgh) – 21 caps
2. Stuart McInally (Edinburgh, capt) – 26 caps
3. Willem Nel (Edinburgh) – 28 caps
4. Ben Toolis (Edinburgh) – 17 caps
5. Grant Gilchrist – 32 caps
6. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) – 4 caps
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) – 24 caps
8. Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh) – 6 caps
16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 41 caps
17. Gordon Reid (London Irish) – 33 caps
18. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) – 18 caps
19. Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors) – 50 caps
20. Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks) – 21 caps
21. Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne) – 70 caps
22. Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) – 10 caps
23. Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons) – 7 caps