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Van der Walt ‘taken game to new level’

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Jaco van der Walt in Scotland training
Jaco van der Walt qualifies on residency grounds after joining Edinburgh in 2017
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 5 December Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds; follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

Edinburgh’s Jaco van der Walt has “taken his game to another level”, says Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, as the fly-half prepares to make his debut against Ireland on Saturday.

The 26-year-old, who was born in South Africa, has just qualified for Scotland through residency.

Scotland travel to Ireland aiming to finish third in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“Defensively, he must be one of the best tackling stand-offs in world rugby,” Townsend said of Van der Walt.

“It will be just that little bit quicker at international level but we have a real belief and faith in his ability and in those around him to bring the best out of our backline this weekend.

“This year and last year he’s taken his game to another level.”

Van der Walt replaces Duncan Weir and is one of six changes to the side that lost 22-15 to France., as Scotland try to win in Ireland for the first time since 2009.

Saracens centre Duncan Taylor will make his first Scotland start since the win against Russia in the 2019 World Cup.

Winger Darcy Graham returns to the side along with Edinburgh team-mate Rory Sutherland, who is at loosehead prop again after injury.

Glasgow Warriors tighthead Zander Fagerson also returns to the front row, while there is a positional change in the back row, with Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie moving to the openside in the absence of Hamish Watson and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson starting on the blindside.

Warriors centre Huw Jones, who has been playing full-back this season, and 34-year-old London Irish flanker Blair Cowan are set to make their first appearances of the autumn campaign from the bench.

Glasgow prop Oli Kebble moves to the bench, while Blair Kinghorn, Sam Johnson, Duncan Weir, Simon Berghan and Watson miss out on the match-day squad.

Gloucester centre Chris Harris and two Glasgow men – scrum-half Ali Price and lock Scott Cummings – are the only three players to have started every match in Scotland’s 2020 autumn campaign.

Scotland team to face Ireland

Scotland: Hogg, Graham, Harris, Taylor, Van der Merwe; Van der Walt, Price; Sutherland, Brown, Z Fagerson; Cummings, Gray; Thomson, Ritchie, M Fagerson.

Replacements: McInally, Kebble, Nel, Skinner, Cowan, Hidalgo-Clyne, Jones, Maitland.

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