Kyle Steyn gets the call to replace the suspended Duhan van der Merwe as Sam Johnson and Matt Fagerson win recalls for Scotland’s Six Nations visit to Rome.
Hamish Watson is also back after missing the defeat to France with a Covid infection. There are four changes in all to the starting XV from two weeks ago.
Steyn gets the nod to go on the left wing in the absence of van der Merwe, banned after a red card playing for Worcester at the weekend. In his last start, the South African-born Glasgow wing scored four tries against Tonga.
After being dropped from the squad for the last two games, Johnson returns at inside centre to displace clubmate Sione Tuipulotu, who is on the bench.
Fagerson, Watson return in the back row
Hear from Gregor Townsend as he discusses his team selection.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 10, 2022
Matt Fagerson has recovered from the foot injury he sustained against Wales which caused him to miss the French game. He slots in at No 8 with Watson and Rory Darge on the flanks as was originally intended for the French game.
“The positive is that both Hamish and Matt are both back and available,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “They played really well down in Wales, Hamish for the full 80 minutes and Matt for the 20 or so minutes, and had played well against England.
“The performance of Rory Darge against France was probably our best individual performance of the championship so far. So to put Rory with the other two is exciting for us.”
Darge ‘just wants to get better’
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 9, 2022
Darge has thrived at every level he’s had the chance to play at, added Townsend.
“He grabbed his opportunity against France, a very physical team,” continued the coach. “When his own team weren’t always producing the play to get us on the front foot, or give us clear opportunities in defence, he managed to get I think five turnovers and attacked really well.
“He knows he has parts of his game to work on and on his strengths as well. He’s very good both sides of the ball and very disciplined defensively.
“But he’s a player that seeks feedback. He doesn’t have emotional highs and lows, he just wants to get better.”
Hastings back, Kinghorn not available
Townsend rotates his hookers with George Turner starting. On the bench, Adam Hastings is in for Blair Kinghorn – who is not injured but unavailable – as the back-up for Finn Russell. Hastings wasn’t included in any of the first three Six Nations matches.
Despite the rumblings outwith the Scotland camp after below-par performances in the last two matches, Russell remains the starting 10.
“We take selection really seriously,” said Townsend. “We know that it’s giving players an opportunity to perform, so we look at every position.
“But we also have real belief in players that have performed for us not just over the last two games but over the last two years.
These are players who are key drivers of how we want to play in attack and defence. We back this squad, this fifteen and the 23 that will play this weekend.”
‘We have to win the moments’
The key is to not give Italy a sniff of momentum early in the game, and to finish strongly.
“We want to be able to put our own game in place, and be accurate and disciplined in that,” added the coach. “But we also not giving any easy ways for Italy to get in the game.
“We know they’ll play with a lot passion and aggression. The last two occasions when we played in Florence and in Rome they were the better team in the first half hour of the game.
“We managed to come back in both games. But we can’t let that happen this time, we have to win moments at the beginning and end of the game.”
Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, capt); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh); Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).
Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh) Allan Dell (London Irish), WP Nel (Edinburgh), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Ben Vellacott (Edinburgh), Adam Hastings (Gloucester), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors).