EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Centre Sam Johnson will make his Scotland debut in their Six Nations opener against Italy as coach Gregor Townsend on Thursday made six changes for Saturday’s clash at Murrayfield.
Australia-born Johnson, who moved to Scotland from the Queensland Reds in 2015, will pair with his Glasgow Warriors partner Huw Jones at centre with uncapped hooker Jake Kerr and backrower Gary Graham named among the replacements.
Scotland will be without injured lock Jonny Gray and loose forward Hamish Watson in their first game since the 14-9 victory over Argentina at Murrayfield in November.
Ben Toolis was named to partner Gary Gilchrist in the second row after Gray failed to shake off a nagging shoulder problem.
The absence of Watson, who also has a shoulder injury, means Jamie Ritchie comes in at No. 7 with Sam Skinner on the blindside and Ryan Wilson returning at No. 8.
All but two of the starting pack play for Edinburgh who are third in their PRO-14 conference.
“Our challenge is to win the physical battle, which is a strength of Italian rugby,” Townsend said.
“We will also have to bring energy and accuracy in order to get our campaign off to a winning start.”
Team: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Tommy Seymour, 13-Huw Jones, 12-Sam Johnson, 11-Blair Kinghorn, 10-Finn Russell, 9-Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8-Ryan Wilson, 7-Jamie Ritchie, 6-Sam Skinner, 5-Grant Gilchrist, 4-Ben Toolis, 3-WP Nel, 2-Stuart McInally, 1-Allan Dell
Replacements: 16-Jake Kerr, 17-Jamie Bhati, 18-Simon Berghan, 19-Gary Graham, 20-Josh Strauss, 21-Ali Price, 22-Adam Hastings, 23-Chris Harris.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson,; Editing by Ed Osmond