Three changes for Italian job
Head Coach Gregor Townsend today named three changes to the starting Scotland team to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome this Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm GMT / 3.15pm local time) – live on ITV / STV.
The sides go into the round three Guinness Six Nations match smarting from opening round defeats – Scotland succumbing to Ireland and England in Dublin and Edinburgh, while Italy’s losses to Wales and France came on the road, meaning this Saturday’s Test is their first of the championship on home soil.
Scotland have won 22 of the 30 Tests between the nations but the odds are more evenly stacked when they meet in Italy, with the contests level on six apiece thanks to a recent run of four consecutive away wins for the Scots.
Townsend said: “Italy are always a very tough opponent, especially in Rome, where we know they’ll look to play with a huge amount of energy.
“It’s a different Italy team to the one we’ve played in the past. In their opening two games of the championship they have played with real ambition and width.
“They’ve also selected athletic, ball players who suit this strategy and are comfortable playing at a high tempo.
"We are well aware of the threats throughout their team and how their attacking game can cause problems for any defence.” Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend
McInally swaps places with Glasgow Warriors’ Fraser Brown, who moves to the bench, and Toolis comes in for the injured Jonny Gray (hand), while Harris is picked in favour of Huw Jones, with Sale Sharks wing Byron McGuigan taking his place on the bench.
Reflecting on the team changes, Townsend added: “We believe Chris [Harris] and Stuart [McInally] deserve this opportunity. They were very close to the starting fifteen when we entered this campaign. We think this is the right time for them to come in.
“Chris has been excellent for Gloucester this season and has continued to make improvements since the summer. He works very hard on both sides of the ball, which will be important this week.
“Stuart [McInally] has shown over the past few weeks he’s back to full fitness and is raring to go and Ben gets an opportunity to start following Jonny’s injury against England.
“Second-row is a position we have a lot of competition with a number of very good players available for selection. We’re looking forward to seeing how he combines again with Scott [Cummings] after a successful outing together against Russia in the World Cup.”
Edinburgh wing Blair Kinghorn – who scored a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture at BT Murrayfield last season – is joined once more by Sean Maitland (wing) and captain Stuart Hogg (full-back) in the back field.
In all the replacements bench features four changes, with second-row Grant Gilchrist and wing McGuigan taking the places vacated by the promoted Harris and Toolis, while Edinburgh tighthead Willem Nel and recent squad addition Matt Fagerson (back-row) replace Simon Berghan and Nick Haining respectively.
Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham returned to training last week but has not yet recovered sufficiently from his knee injury to be considered for this Test match.
Scotland team to play Italy at the Stadio Olimpico
Saturday 22 February (kick-off 2.15pm GMT / 3.15pm local time) – live on ITV/STV.
15. Stuart Hogg CAPTAIN (Exeter Chiefs) – 74 caps
1. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh) – 5 caps
2. Stuart McInally VICE CAPTAIN (Edinburgh) – 35 caps
3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 27 caps
4. Ben Toolis (Edinburgh) – 24 caps
5. Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors) – 10 caps
6. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh) – 16 caps
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) – 30 caps
8. Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh) – 12 caps
16. Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) – 48 caps
17. Allan Dell (London Irish) – 30 caps
18. Willem Nel (Edinburgh) – 36 caps
19. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) – 40 caps
20. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 5 caps
21. George Horne (Glasgow Warriors) – 11 caps
22. Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints) – 4 caps
23. Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) – 9 caps