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Townsend drops his Scottish skipper

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Townsend explains exactly why he has dropped Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw

Gregor Townsend insists dropping Greig Laidlaw for Saturday’s clash with Wales is not the beginning of the end for the skipper’s Scotland career.

The Clermont Auvergne scrum-half has paid for his part in back-to-back Guinness Six Nations defeats to Ireland and France, with Townsend opting to start Ali Price against Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam-chasers.

Laidlaw turned 33 last October and some will speculate his days are numbered after Townsend confessed he is giving Price a shot as he experiments ahead of this year’s World Cup.

There is no doubt the former Edinburgh ace has not been at his best during the Six Nations so far, so will have to watch from the bench as his understudy gets his chance to prove he can be the man to steer Scotland towards Japan 2019.

But Townsend is not ready to discard Scotland’s second highest all-time points scorer just yet as he insisted Laidlaw still has a vital role to play. “We know there is a big tournament on the horizon and we will see what happens after the World Cup,” said the head coach.

(Continue reading below…)

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“That tends to be the time when players reassess where they are, when the coaches reassess what is their next challenge. We know Greig is determined to play his best, play well for Scotland and win for Scotland. He is the only player who has started the last six games, which shows how important a member of our squad he is.

“We had two weeks to reflect on why things didn’t work over in France. We looked at every position, and we also reflected on the fact we’re out of the championship. So if someone has earned their opportunity, Ali Price for example, this is a good time to see if it helps the team win at the weekend.

“Greig is a key part of the squad. He will have a different role off the bench but he will have an important part to play on Saturday.”

Price will look to make more of this opportunity than he did against the Welsh 12 months ago. The Glasgow Warrior was given the nod over Laidlaw in last year’s opener at the Principality Stadium but handed the hosts their first two tries in a 21-10 flop.

He then had to wait another nine months before being trusted to start a further game for Scotland – ironically against Wales again in Cardiff last November. He will now link up with the fit-again Finn Russell, who returns after missing the Les Bleus defeat with a head knock.

Townsend expects no repeat of his 2018 horror show. He said: “This isn’t a reflection on how Greig is playing, it is a reflection of how Ali has been going.

Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has been left out of the starting team to face Wales (Photo: Getty Images)

“Ali deserved an opportunity to start at some stage, and we believe this weekend is the right time to do it. I believe he’s more resilient after last year. Most players go through periods when things don’t go so well for them.

“He didn’t play as well for club and country during this period last year but physically he is in good shape, and we have seen a step up in his form for Glasgow since November.”

It has been a morale-sapping tournament for Scotland so far but Townsend wants his side to come out fighting. “The Welsh players and supporters and neutrals will believe Wales are the better team and will win,” he said. “We will have to just wait and see on Saturday afternoon.

“We realise we have not shown a true picture of what we are capable of. We have come up against some excellent teams in the past, teams that have been on good winning records and risen to the occasion and played at our best. We know that is what we have to do to win.”

Stuart McInally will lead out the team in place of Laidlaw, while Edinburgh prop WP Nel and wing Darcy Graham come in to start. The Glasgow duo of Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour will win their 50th caps.

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Townsend explains exactly why he has dropped Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw