Scotland boss Gregor Townsend understands why Ireland have left Conor Murray on the bench after the experienced Munster and Lions scrum-half failed to dislodge Jamison Gibson-Park.

Murray, 31, missed the defeat to France and the win over Italy with a hamstring injury and despite a return to full fitness must make do with a spot among the replacements. 

As Andy Farrell made three changes to his starting XV, Gibson-Park, who has won eight caps since making his debut against Italy last October, continues in situ for Ireland's visit to Murrayfield on Sunday.

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"Jamison is a player on form," said Townsend of the 29-year-old New Zealander. 

"Obviously, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton have built a lot of cohesion together. 

"But Jamison is a club-mate of Sexton's. He plays at a lot of tempo, he appears in the wide channel frequently and had a good relationship with his wingers. 

"But we expect kicking accuracy and he does all the basics well. We know we will be tested in defence whoever they play in 9." 

The hosts have not beaten Ireland since 2017 and despite a disastrous start to their Six Nations campaign, Townsend expects Farrell’s side can fall back on much of what delivered their success under former head coach Joe Schmidt, as well as some new initiative. 

"There is a lot of similarities with how Ireland have been successful over the years, excellent set-piece, they are very good in contact in attack," he added.

"And they’re also showing a willingness in contact to compete for ball in defence when you are attacking and that is evident in selection, with Tadhg Beirne in there. 

"There is a difference in defending at times and they are a side certainly playing with ambition and bringing in the backs more once they cross the half-way line. 

Scotland's impression of Ireland 'irrelevant' - Farrell

"In the last three games against Ireland we've created openings. In the autumn we were 9-3 up and playing really good rugby. 

"But then they dominated for periods and put points on the board [winning 31-16]. 

"We know it's going to be a real physical contest and that Ireland will have some time in our 22.

"We just have to make sure they don't come away with points on a regular basis and we must make sure we take our chances when we get them." 

While Ireland are out of the running, Scotland still have ambitions to take the race to the final day.

Their third-round game against France was postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the French ranks. It is hoped that the match can be played on 26 March.

The former Lions out-half insists he wouldn’t have wanted a 28-0 walkover win – a default result during the Autumn Nations Cup and for some games in the Champions Cup – due to the random nature of Covid-19 infections, even if France did not follow safety guidelines.

Nel recalled to start for Scotland against Ireland

He said: "We were all aware of the rules going into the tournament and knew there wasn't going to be a 28-0 win or even a draw. It was always going to be a postponement. 

"You could follow all the rules and protocols and still end up with the virus in your camp. 

"Our players are coming in from other teams every second week so I don't think you could set something up (to issue forfeits) because it could be down to bad luck as well as any other circumstance. 

"We want the game played and so do France. Let's hope it gets played in the next three weeks." 

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