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Townsend faces a nervous Saturday as Hogg and co start for Exeter

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)

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It will be a nervous Saturday for Scotland boss Gregor Townsend as skipper Stuart Hogg and second row duo Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner will all start for Exeter in the Gallager Premiership match at London Irish. In contrast, all the other international players at the Chiefs who are involved in the upcoming Guinness Six Nations have the eve-of-tournament weekend off. 

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Unlike the Scottish trio, who had to return from training at Oriam to link up with Exeter in midweek, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Jack Nowell, Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade have all spent the entire week with England in Brighton and were unavailable to Rob Baxter for selection. Christ Tshiunza, meanwhile, is in isolation after reporting into the Wales camp with Covid.

With the countdown now on towards the February 5 Calcutta Cup clash between Scotland and England at the start of the Six Nations, Scottish boss Townsend will have his fingers crossed that his three Exeter players – Hogg, Gray and Skinner – will emerge unscathed from the Premiership match at Brentford. 

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Saracens vs Bristol Bears – The Showdown 2
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Saracens vs Bristol Bears – The Showdown 2

Host club London Irish have only named uncapped Kyle Rowe on their bench after he missed Scotland training while there is no place for Ben White, another uncapped player called up by Townsend in the squad he picked for the Six Nations.

“For the first time in a while we will probably go there as underdogs, but we need to relish that status,” said Exeter boss Baxter about his team’s trip to Irish. “It’s a refreshing position to be in, so let’s go and make the most of it.”

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Elsewhere on the Scotland front in the Premiership, Ewan Ashman starts for Sale, Andy Christie and Sean Maitland are on the Saracens bench, Rory Sutherland is back to start for Worcester following his suspension while Duhan van der Merwe is also included on the left wing after illness prevented him from training with Scotland. Rory Hutchinson starts for Northampton as does Cameron Redpath for Bath, who are without Josh Bayliss who has had a concussion issue.

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EXETER (vs London Irish, Saturday)
15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Harvey Skinner, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds (capt), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. James Kenny, 2. Jack Innard, 3. Patrick Schickerling, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Sam Skinner, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jannes Kirsten, 8. Don Armand. Reps: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Billy Keast, 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Santiago Grondona, 21. Sam Maunder, 22. Sean O’Brien, 23. Josh Hodge.

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