GLASGOW WARRIORS centre Sam Johnson will make his international debut for Scotland against Italy on Saturday afternoon after being named at inside centre in Gregor Townsend’s side. Flanker Gary Graham and hooker Jake Kerr are also set to make their first appearances at this level off the bench.
Johnson, who was born and raised in Australia, and qualifies for Scotland through residency, was expected to debut during November but picked up a concussion playing for Warriors on the weekend before the series started which ruled him out.
Kerr – the son of former Scotland A wing John – was on the books with Edinburgh earlier in his career, but struggled for game time before deciding to head to Loughborough University to study economics, from where he was picked up by Leicester Tigers, and he has been a regular for the Premiership side this season.
Graham – who also has a distinguished rugby playing father in former Scotland prop and forwards coach George – famously turned his back on Scotland a year ago to throw his lot in with England, before deciding to return to his roots back in November. He has played regularly for Newcastle Falcons these last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors Tommy Seymour replaces Saracens’ Sean Maitland, who has failed to recover sufficiently from a hamstring injury sustained while representing his club side.
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.
“You can sense the excitement throughout the rugby world on the eve of this year’s Championship and we’re looking forward to our starting our campaign at BT Murrayfield,” said Scotland head coach, Gregor Townsend.
“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 that Scotland 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 (v Italy at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 2.15pm): Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn; Fin Russell, Greig Laidlaw (c); Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson. Subs: Jake Kerr, Jamie Bhatti, Gary Graham, Josh Strauss, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chis Harris.
Squad players unavailable through injury: Jonny Gray (shoulder), George Horne (shoulder), Pete Horne (knee), Lee Jones (knee), Sean Maitland (hamstring), Grant Stewart (shoulder).
More to follow …