Guinness Six Nations
Johnson one of three uncapped players for Italian opener
Glasgow centre Sam Johnson will make his debut against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday (pic: SNS Group)
Gregor Townsend is to hand Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson his Scotland debut in this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy at BT Murrayfield.
The Australia-born midfielder is one of three uncapped players named in the match-day 23, with Leicester Tigers hooker Jake Kerr joined by Newcastle Falcons back-row Gary Graham on the bench.
Johnson is one of six personnel changes to the team that started Scotland’s final home Autumn Test win over Argentina.
The four remaining changes come in the pack, where hooker Stuart McInally, lock Ben Toolis, and back-row forwards Sam Skinner and Ryan Wilson start in place of injured trio Fraser Brown (knee), Jonny Gray (shoulder) and Hamish Watson (hand), and Josh Strauss, who moves to the bench.
The changes mean an all-Edinburgh tight-five will take to the field as Toolis partners Grant Gilchrist in the second-row and McInally packs down with front-row colleagues Allan Dell and Willem Nel.
Clermont Auvergne scrum-half Greig Laidlaw returns to captain once more alongside Finn Russell, who reverts to his more familiar stand-off berth to accommodate the incoming Johnson, who partners clubmate Huw Jones in midfield.
Stuart Hogg and Blair Kinghorn form the back-three with the incoming Seymour.
Head coach Townsend, said: “Italy have made life tough for Scotland in every Test match we’ve played. I remember that as a player, as a supporter and as a coach – and they were better than us in most of last season’s contest in Rome. They played with pace, were physical and we had to play really, really well in the final quarter to win.
“That performance and also the recent displays of Benetton Treviso are sharp reminders for our players that this will be a difficult fixture.
“Our challenge is to win the physical battle, which is a strength of Italian rugby. We will also have to bring energy and accuracy in order to get our campaign off to a winning start.”
Townsend also confirmed wing Lee Jones will play no part in the opening rounds of the Guinness Six Nations campaign, having sustained a knee injury playing for Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO14.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne – capt); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Jake Kerr (Leicester Tigers), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors)Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Gary Graham (Newcastle), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks), Ali Price Warriors), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Newcastle).