Townsend ring the changes to 'refresh' Scotland
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made seven changes to his starting XV for the Six Nations match against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday.
A new-look line-up sees captain Stuart Hogg start his first Scotland match at flyhalf, with his fellow halfback Harlequins scrumhalf Scott Steele making his first start for his country.
New combinations also start up front from the group who played against Ireland in the last round of the tournament.
Edinburgh hooker David Cherry makes his first start for Scotland and packs down with club teammate Rory Sutherland and Glasgow Warriors’ returning Zander Fagerson.
A new lock pairing sees Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist and Exeter Chief Sam Skinner come in for the injured duo of Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray, and it’s an unchanged back row of Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson.
Sean Maitland of Saracens starts at fullback and is supported in the back three by Edinburgh wings Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe.
Huw Jones – who scored off the bench against Ireland – starts alongside Glasgow Warriors teammate Sam Johnson in the centres.
Gloucester lock Alex Craig is in line for his Scotland debut from the replacements, as he is called into the matchday 23 for the first time.
Jamie Bhatti and Simon Berghan are joined by George Turner as front row cover, with Nick Haining among the forward options.
There is additional experience available in the backs selected with scrumhalf Ali Price, Jaco van der Walt and Chris Harris and completing the squad.
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“Saturday is an opportunity for us to show an improved performance and a much truer reflection of who we are as a team,” the coach, Townsend, said.
“It’s also an opportunity for a number of players in their first start of the Championship.
“How we perform physically this weekend is going to be very important, both in terms of the energy and effort that is demanded from you each time you represent Scotland, and also our impacts in every contact.
“Whenever we play Italy, the contact area is fiercely contested and I’m sure this game will be no different.
“Italy have been playing ambitious rugby and have performed better away from home in this year’s championship, causing both England and France a number of problems. We expect them to produce their best rugby of the season against us, so we are focused on delivering a full 80-minute performance at Murrayfield on Saturday.”
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Stuart Hogg (captain), 9 Scott Steele, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 David Cherry, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Nick Haining, 21 Ali Price, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Saturday, March 20
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.15 (15.15 Italian time; 14.15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England) & Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Alex Ruiz (France)