Tartan threat: Three Scots with a point to prove

There are two debutants today and they both happen to be No 8s – but whereas Caelan Doris has come through that well-established development pathway of Blackrock College, the Leinster Academy and the Leinster senior side, Scotland’s new face is a bolter from the blue.

Tartan threat: Three Scots with a point to prove

NICK HAINING

There are two debutants today and they both happen to be No 8s – but whereas Caelan Doris has come through that well-established development pathway of Blackrock College, the Leinster Academy and the Leinster senior side, Scotland’s new face is a bolter from the blue.

Born 29 years ago in Fremantle, Australia, Haining was picked up by the Western Force Academy as a scrawny centre but struggled to establish himself, with his only exposure to top flight rugby at the franchise coming after he had been cut from the programme when he was called back in to sit on the bench against the Lions in 2013 (because all the Wallabies in the squad were being rested).

He finally filled out in his mid-20s, converted to the back-row, followed a few pals to Europe to play for English Championship side Jersey Reds in 2014, and after three years there had two more at Bristol Bears, before being picked up by Edinburgh as World Cup cover last summer.

While he has exceeded all external expectations with his form for Richard Cockerill’s side during the last six months, it was still a surprise when he was named in Scotland’s Six Nations training squad – he qualifies through a granny from Dundee – and a shock when he was named in the starting XV earlier this week.

Injuries to Magnus Bradbury, Blade Thomson and Matt Fagerson, the retirement of john Barclay, and the fall from favour of Ryan Wilson, led to this call-up – and Haining has been around the block enough times to know that this is the sort of opportunity which isn’t likely to come along again.

At 6ft 4ins and a touch over 18 stone, he provides the sort of physical presence which has been in short supply in the Scotland squad in recent years, whilst retaining the ball-playing ability and athleticism of his years playing in the backline — but doubts persist about whether he really is international class, or a journeyman who has got lucky.

HUW JONES

The centre burst onto the international scene in 2016 with 10 tries in his first 14 games for Scotland, including a sensational brace against England in the famous Calcutta Cup success at Murrayfield in February 2018 – but then his form fell off a cliff.

With his contract running out at the end of the 2018-19 season, Jones was courted by some big-spending clubs in England but opted to sign a two-year extension with Glasgow Warriors — which almost immediately looked like a major mistake when it became apparent that Dave Rennie didn’t rate him.

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Struggling to get games at club level, his confidence disappeared — and he ended up as not even a serious contender for last year’s World Cup.

With Rory Hutchinson, Chris Harris, Kyle Steyn, Nick Grigg and Mark Bennett all challenging for the No 13 jersey, and tending to produce better form on a weekly basis at club level, there was a real danger that his international career might be over at the ripe old age of 26 — but a run of impressive performances for Warriors during the last two months catapulted him right back into contention for this Six Nations.

Head coach Gregor Townsend has always been a fan and jumped at the chance to give his man another crack at the whip.

Jones’ ability to hit good angles with pace and power means he will always be a handful in attack, but doubts persist about his defence – which Garry Ringrose and co will be desperate to investigate.

Scotland have a new defence coach in Welshman Steve Tandy, who will have been working hard to make sure that Jones is ready to soak up whatever is thrown at him.

ADAM HASTINGS

The high profile departure from the squad of Finn Russell a week last Sunday has been the big talking point in Scottish rugby during this Six Nations build-up, and while the squad have been at pains to stress that the absence of the talismanic playmaker has barely registered inside the camp – nobody is buying that.

On his day, Russell is quite literally untouchable, and it is inconceivable that none of his close friends in the squad have been unsettled by this highly unusual public falling out.

Fortunately, the man to take over the mantle at stand-off is the type of character to embrace the scrutiny he is bound to be under this weekend.

At 23, Hastings is a year older than Russell was when he got his big chance in the summer of 2014 – and while this is his first Six Nations start, he has played 16 games for Scotland, so is hardly a novice.

Like Russell, he tends to play on the edge – and like Russell, he has shown admirable resilience when his gambles have backfired.

Reading between the lines of Townsend’s rare public utterances this last fortnight, it feels a bit like the coach is not particularly desperate to welcome Russell back to the fold.

The roots of their broken relationship apparently relate to the player’s inability to grasp the tactical approach being championed by the coach, and while Hastings also leans towards a freewheeling game it seems he is more disposed to fitting into the Townsend game-plan.

Warriors head coach Dave Rennie, who had one year working with Russell before he moved to Racing 92 and has since spent the last year and a half with Hastings as his main man at No 10.

The New Zealander calls it as he sees it and has always insisted that the younger man is a better all-round team player.

It is a bold hypothesis which will be rigorously tested this weekend.

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