Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair said the decision to recall “fantastic” John Hardie to the Six Nations squad was a straightforward decision despite his ban earlier this season over alleged cocaine use.
The Edinburgh flanker was one of 10 players added to Gregor Townsend’s squad for the remainder of the tournament after he was banned for three months, forcing him to miss the start of the competition.
The 29-year-old was banned by both Edinburgh and Scotland in November for “gross misconduct” amid allegations of cocaine use, but made his return to the game in early February and has since started two games to force his way into Townsend’s squad.
Richie Gray also returns, along with Fraser Brown, Alex Dunbar, Zander Fagerson and Darryl Marfo following injury, while young Glasgow scrum-half George Horne has been called up for the first time.
Blair said it would have been “silly” to ignore a player of Hardie’s quality after his return to action.
“He’s a fantastic player,” said the skills coach. “He has a good pedigree and a good history playing with Scotland. “When you have a player like that available it would be silly not to have him on board.
“He’s had his time off. He’s been helped through that and now he can focus on his rugby.”
Byron McGuigan and Lee Jones also return to the squad after suffering injuries earlier in the tournament and Magnus Bradbury has been re-selected to boost the squad ahead of their final two matches of the campaign against Ireland and Italy.
Scotland head to Dublin on Saturday looking to back up an impressive win over England that revitalised their Six Nations hopes, and Blair said the added competition for places was healthy for the squad.
But Scotland are without a win away from home in the tournament, outside of Italy, since beating Ireland in 2010, while they have only ever won six matches away from home in the entire Six Nations.
Blair, who played in that 2010 win at Croke Park, is at a loss to explain their poor form on their travels.
“You would earn a lot of money if you knew that answer,” he said. “Historically, French teams, club and national, had huge differences between home and away games.
“Globally, it is a lot more difficult to win away from home.”
Forwards (22): John Barclay, capt (Scarlets), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow), David Denton (Worcester), Cornell du Preez (Edinburgh), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow), Richie Gray (Toulouse), Luke Hamilton (Leicester), John Hardie (Edinburgh), Scott Lawson (Newcastle), Darryl Marfo (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (London Irish), Tim Swinson (Glasgow), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow)
Backs (18): Mark Bennett (Edinburgh), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow), Nick Grigg (Glasgow), Chris Harris (Newcastle), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow), George Horne (Glasgow), Pete Horne (Glasgow), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Lee Jones (Glasgow), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Byron McGuigan (Sale), Ali Price (Glasgow), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow), Finn Russell (Glasgow), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow)