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Townsend admits dropping Kinghorn 'more difficult than what we planned'

The Edinburgh winger is benched for Saturday’s game against Ireland despite scoring a hat-trick against Italy.

GREGOR TOWSEND SAYS dropping Blair Kinghorn, who scored a hat-trick against Italy on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, was ‘more difficult than what we planned it was going to be’.

Kinghorn has been benched for Scotland’s clash against Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday, with the fit-again Sean Maitland returning to Townsend’s starting XV, which shows four changes for the visit of Joe Schmidt’s side [KO 2.15pm, Virgin Media].

Blair Kinghorn celebrates scoring the first try Kinghorn scored a hat-trick last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Edinburgh winger Kinghorn was one of the stars of the opening round of championship action, crossing three times against the Azzurri, as Scotland eased to a comfortable home victory.

But restoring Maitland — who has recovered from a hamstring problem — to the wing was always the plan, leading Townsend to have a difficult conversation with Kinghorn this week. 

“More difficult than what we planned it was going to be the week before,” the Scotland head coach said of dropping the 22-year-old. 

“We were always hoping Sean would get back fit for this game. Sean would have been starting against Italy with Tommy Seymour if he’d been fit.

“Blair’s performance did mean that we had an extended discussion that probably went on a second day, but we believe that Tommy and Sean are best equipped for this game against Ireland.”

He added: “Nothing should be taken away from Blair’s performance and what he could do if he was selected this week. Players take (being dropped) differently — sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes they’re accepting and sometimes they argue back. Blair was quiet. He’ll be disappointed, I know.”

Three of Townsend’s four changes for Ireland come in the pack. Prop Simon Berghan, yellow-carded against Italy, and back row Josh Strauss start in place of the injured WP Nel [calf] and Sam Skinner [ankle] respectively.

Meanwhile, Jonny Gray’s recovery from a shoulder injury sees him replace lock Ben Toolis, who moves to the bench, with the loss of Nel a particular setback for the hosts.

After winning two of their four Autumn internationals, Scotland are bidding to repeat their home victory over Ireland at Murrayfield two years ago, when they caught Schmidt’s side cold with a blistering opening salvo.

“It’s massive,” Townsend continued. “It’s probably the biggest challenge we’ll face in the Six Nations, given the way Ireland have been playing in the last few years — they are Grand Slam Champions and the number-two team in the world.

They’re very well coached, have some outstanding players and will test us in a number of areas — defensively, set-piece, attack and kicking game.

“It is a challenge that brings an extra edge and focus to training and something our players relish taking on. Our players have risen to the challenge of playing New Zealand, England and other world-class teams and they are aware that we must rise once more to produce one of our best-ever performances for 80 minutes.”

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Ryan Bailey

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