Gregor Townsend Insists Rookie Chris Harris Can Block Wales’ Path In Six Nations Opener

Wales have been warned Chris Harris will make his mark when Scotland come to Cardiff for the Six Nations opener on Saturday.

Harris was the surprise selection in the Scots team named by coach Gregor Townsend as the 27-year-old Newcastle Falcons centre is in line for his first start for his country.

Harris will partner Huw Jones in midfield as Townsend makes six changes to the team that hammered Australia in November.

Harris had a cameo off the bench at wing in the first autumn Test against Samoa but didn’t feature in the subsequent squads against New Zealand and Australia.

But with Glasgow’s Alex Dunbar and Saracens’ Duncan Taylor both unavailable after suffering concussion, Townsend has opted for Harris to face Wales centre pairing of Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams and said: “It’s a big ask but Chris has shown it this year.

“I’ve been really impressed with him, no matter who he has come up against. We watched him live down at Newcastle against Exeter, the English champions [earlier this month]. He played really well that day.

“We’ve watched his games on video before that. He’s just found a groove in his defence this year. He’s enjoyed tackling, he’s read plays really well.

“He has been very confident and relaxed in this environment, both in November and now. There are parts of his game, away from the defending, where he has really impressed us this week.

“We believe he’ll be in a good place to grab his opportunity.”

Townsend had to contend with an injury crisis in the front row, with five props and three hookers unavailable, so tighthead Jon Welsh makes his first Scotland appearance since 2015 alongside London Irish’s Gordon Reid and Edinburgh hooker Stuart McInally.

Warren Gatland and Gregor Townsend with the Six Nations trophy. Pic: Getty Images.

“Wales have one of the best defences in the game and an attack that sees forwards passing much more and a structure that enables backs to get on ball,” said Townsend.

“I’m sure it’ll be great occasion to kick off this year’s championship and we can’t wait to get started.

“You need to win away from home if you’ve got realistic ambitions of winning the championship,” admitted Townsend.

“Defence is really important, whoever you’re playing against and we’ve got to make sure that right throughout the team we have that as our No 1 priority.

“So we look at players and how well they’re defending, how they can combine with other players to make sure we’re really solid.

“Most of the oppositions we play against now are going to be attacking in the wider channels, attacking through the backs, so we’ve got to make sure we’re strong there.

“Wales are certainly one team that will be direct. They’ll go at the 10, 12 channel, but they will try to pass the ball, get into 13 and the outside channels, so having Huw [Jones] and Chris working well together during the week, we’re really confident we can defend well.”

Scotland were 29-13 winners over Wales in last season’s Six Nations but they have not won in Cardiff since 2002.

Wales have handed a debut to Worcester wing Josh Adams, with 10 Scarlets selected in the starting XV.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Huw Jones, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price; 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.

Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Maitland.


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