GREGOR Townsend has neither the time nor the inclination to experiment against Georgia tomorrow night, as he has shown by selecting a largely battle-hardened matchday 23. Scotland need a solid performance at BT Murrayfield to take them into the Six Nations game against Wales the following weekend, and the line-up chosen by the head coach can be relied upon to play in reassuringly robust fashion.

The one debutant in the starting line-up for the warm-up match, Edinburgh winger Duhan Van der Merwe, has matured into one of the deadliest finishers in the Pro14 over the past couple of seasons, and it has been clear for some time that he was ready to step up to Test level. He gets his chance now having recently qualified on residential grounds, as does Glasgow Warriors prop Oli Kebble, the only uncapped player among the substitutes and a man who, at 28, has the solidity and experience needed to slot in seamlessly. Van der Merwe is part of an all-Edinburgh back three with Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham, while Kebble completes a Warriors front-row trio with fellow-prop Zander Fagerson and hooker Fraser Brown, who is named as captain for the first time.

As expected, Finn Russell returns as a substitute after patching up the differences with the coach which kept him out of the squad earlier this year, and will deputise for incumbent stand-off Adam Hastings. Ali Price will partner Hastings at half-back, having been preferred to Glasgow team-mate George Horne, and is also one of Brown’s two vice-captains along with Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie. Harlequins centre James Lang will win his third cap two years on from earning his first couple on the summer tour to North and South America, and will partner Gloucester’s Chris Harris.

“We wanted to put out our strongest team available and build that cohesion straight away,” said Townsend, who opted not to seek the release of Exeter trio Stuart Hogg, Sam Skinner and Jonny Gray as their club has a Premiership final against Wasps on Saturday. “We’ve had a week and a half of training, but nothing beats a game to see how up to speed you are.

“It’s a really good test for us, a physical test. It’s eight days away from the Wales game too, so it should give us a bit of breathing space over the weekend to review and recover.”

The most apparently vulnerable aspect of Townsend’s selection is his decision to go with a six-two split on the bench, with only Russell and Horne as backs replacements. There is a fair amount of versatility on the field, with inside centre Lang able to play at 10, 13 and 15, but it is not unknown for more than two backs to be injured a game, and in that eventuality one or two of the breakaway forwards would be in for an interesting evening.

Yet if that decision does represent a risk, it is one which, is outweighed by other factors, notably the Georgians’ heavy reliance on forward play. “For various reasons we thought this was a good game to try out a six-two split,” Townsend explained. “One is our opposition, who have obvious strengths in their forward pack. A second one is the weather, which comes and goes as you’re selecting a team a few days out, but it does look like it might be wet at the weekend.

“And also we feel in terms of the back row we’re keen to see Nick [Haining] and Cornell [du Preez] get game time. They’ve both impressed us so far this season, so they’ll be coming off the bench.”

Rob Harley is preferred as second-row cover to Glasgow team-mate Richie Gray, because of his own good form and because Gray has not played so much rugby recently. “Rob has put on a few kilos over the summer, he’s starting at Glasgow and playing really well,” the coach added. “Richie impressed us in the one game he started earlier in the season for Glasgow, but we feel he’ll be better suited going back to Glasgow and playing this weekend.”

Four Warriors besides Gray have been released by Townsend and are available to Danny Wilson for Saturday’s Pro14 match against Ospreys: hooker George Turner and backs Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg and Huw Jones. Johnson has yet to play this season because of injury, but is now fully fit and expected to play. If the bench had been split five-three, Townsend added, Jones would have been in his matchday squad.

Props Jamie Bhatti and WP Nel have been freed to play for Edinburgh at home to Connacht on Sunday, but their team-mates Grant Gilchrist and Damian Hoyland have been ruled out of the autumn Tests because of injury.