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Scotland make 12 changes and reveal a big decision about skipper Stuart McInally

Gregor Townsend has made 12 changes to his Scotland team ahead of their must-win showdown with World Cup hosts Japan on Sunday. Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw returns to captain the side and build on his national team record of appearances in the role, with Stuart McInally listed among an impactful bench.

He is joined by rested stand-off Finn Russell – surpassing the record set by Roy Laidlaw and John Rutherford of 35 starts together at half-back – back row Blade Thomson, lock Jonny Gray, full-back Stuart Hogg, centre Sam Johnson and prop Allan Dell – with Saracens wing Sean Maitland unable to recover sufficiently from a groin strain sustained in the Samoa game.

Townsend said: “It’s taken a real squad effort from our players here in Japan to put us in a position to play for a place in the quarter-finals, having risen to the challenge of what’s effectively been knockout rugby since the second round of our Pool.

“The entire group has featured in our past two Tests, both of which have been clinical and professional performances. It was great to see players get the opportunity to play in this World Cup on Wednesday and it looked like they enjoyed the experience.

“The effort invested in defence, support play and clearing has been encouraging and has put a lot of pressure on the opposition. A few players have pushed hard for selection with the form they have shown in training and in the last two games.

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“It’s now down to this group of 23 men to build on this momentum and squad togetherness to deliver a winning performance against Japan in Yokohama in two days’ time.”

Every effort has been made to manage the load on the remainder of Sunday’s starting team, with Fraser Brown – rewarded with his first start of the campaign at his favoured position of hooker – prop Willem Nel, lock Grant Gilchrist and centre Chris Harris all playing half an hour or less last Wednesday against Russia.

Edinburgh’s Magnus Bradbury returns to partner the rested Thomson and Jamie Ritchie – an unused replacement against Russia – in the back row. Wings Darcy Graham and Tommy Seymour are the only others to have started against Russia, completing the back-three with full-back Hogg.

Townsend added: “The opportunity to face the hosts in such a decisive Pool match will be a unique occasion and should be a great spectacle. Games of this magnitude don’t come around very often in a playing career so we will be giving it everything to make sure it is a memorable match.”

Scotland (v Japan, Sunday)

15. Stuart Hogg – 71 caps

14. Tommy Seymour – 54 caps

13. Chris Harris – 13 caps

12. Sam Johnson – 8 caps

11. Darcy Graham – 10 caps

10. Finn Russell – 48 caps

9. Greig Laidlaw (capt) – 75 caps

1. Allan Dell – 27 caps

2. Fraser Brown – 45 caps

3. Willem Nel – 34 caps

4. Grant Gilchrist – 39 caps

5. Jonny Gray – 54 caps

6. Magnus Bradbury – 10 caps

7. Jamie Ritchie – 13 caps

8. Blade Thomson – 4 caps

Substitutes:

16. Stuart McInally – 32 caps

17. Gordon Reid – 40 caps

18. Zander Fagerson  – 24 caps

19. Scott Cummings – 7 caps

20. Ryan Wilson – 48 caps

21. George Horne – 9 caps

22. Pete Horne – 44 caps

23. Blair Kinghorn – 16 caps

WATCH: Fans question World Rugby’s ‘stupid’ RWC planning during Japan’s typhoon season

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Scotland make 12 changes and reveal a big decision about skipper Stuart McInally