The Ireland head coach has brought in Leinster wing Luke Fitzgerald (pictured above) to replace Simon Zebo on the left wing for his first start since their Rugby World Cup warm-up defeat to France in Bordeaux back in August 2011.
Scotland have named a particularly good side; a really balanced side, and I think there’s a bit of desperation from both teams, which will make for a really combative test match.
Joe Schmidt on Ireland’s match against Scotland
Club team-mate Cian Healy is preferred to Jack McGrath at loosehead prop, with Ulster’s Rory Best continuing at hooker and Mike Ross keeping his place at tighthead.
While McGrath drops to the bench, Zebo, who has a few niggles after starting Ireland’s first four matches of the tournament, is left out of the 23, but will travel with the group to Edinburgh.
“It has been a very long road back for Luke, after a number of injuries, but he has an exuberance and positivity that makes it difficult to keep Luke down for long periods,” Schmidt said.
“Obviously, injury forced him away from the pitch, but he’s very keen to get back. That resilience is something we’ll need on Saturday.
“Scotland have named a particularly good side; a really balanced side, and I think there’s a bit of desperation from both teams, which will make for a really combative test match.
“I don’t think a player ever feels that they need a rest; players want to keep going and, when it’s Test matches, to be competitive in the championship they want to be there.
“There’s a bit of disappointment. At the same time, there’s probably a little bit of a sense of relief, because he has been showing signs of wear and tear.”
Captain Paul O’Connell, who earned his 100th cap for Ireland in their defeat to Wales last week, continues his partnership with Devin Toner in the engine room.
The back-row also remains unchanged with Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip at number eight and Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien as the two flankers.
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray continue their partnership at half-back, with Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield, and Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe joining Fitzgerald in the back three.
Ireland go into the “Super Saturday” second in the championship table, level on points with England, who took top spot after round four with +37 points to Ireland’s +33 and Wales’ +12, while France still have a mathematical, albeit very unlikely, chance of winning the title.
It’s going to be a heck of a Saturday. There’s going to be interest in three games that is fantastic for the championship…I don’t think you can rule anything out.
Joe Schmidt on the four-way Six Nations shoot-out
While the new Six Nations trophy will be on duty at Twickenham for England’s match against France, the replica will await Ireland in Edinburgh if they can hand a championship whitewash to Scotland and outperform England and Wales, who begin the afternoon in Rome against Italy.
With the Red Rose kicking off after the conclusion of the Ireland game, Schmidt and his men will have to hang around Murrayfield to find out whether they have done enough to defend their title.
But the Kiwi, who faces a personal battle against his mentor Vern Cotter, is cautious about getting too dragged into what happens in the Wales and England games.
“That’s going to be tough, but we’ll get a bit of a look at what the result is in that game,” he added.
“It can’t effect our preparation and what we’re doing, because then that becomes a distraction and last-minute distractions are never good.
“It’s going to be a heck of a Saturday. There’s going to be interest in three games that is fantastic for the championship.
“For some people, you couldn’t have written a better script. It’s not the script that we wanted to engage in.
“I don’t think you can rule anything out. If [Wales] have a big win, whatever happens, we’ll try to determine what the best thing is for us.
“The one thing I would do is probably throw a word of caution around trying to chase anything other than getting our nose in front of Scotland.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Dougie Fife (Edinburgh), Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors); Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, captain); Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton (Edinburgh).
Replacements: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (London Irish), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Tim Visser (Edinburgh).
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Racing Metro), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Munster, captain), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster); Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Felix Jones (Munster).
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (FFR)
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