Scotland rugby captain Stuart Hogg moves to fly-half as Gregor Townsend rings changes for Italy game
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is ringing the changes for this weekend’s game against Italy in rugby’s Six Nations, with seven alterations to his starting line-up since last Sunday, March 14, and a switch of position for captain Stuart Hogg.
The former Gala and Border Reivers player’s new-look line-up will see Hogg move from full-back to start his first Scotland match at fly-half, standing in for the injured Finn Russell.
As was the case against Wales just over a month ago, the 28-year-old is one of three former Hawick players on the pitch from the beginning, the others being Darcy Graham and Rory Sutherland.
Townsend’s team selection also sees Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele make his debut for the Dark Blues at the age of 27.
Edinburgh hooker David Cherry, 30, will make his first start for his country too after coming on as a sub in all three of the Scots’ Six Nations games so far, and he packs down with club team-mate Sutherland, 28, and Glasgow Warriors’ Zander Fagerson, back after suspension for being red-carded against Wales on Saturday, February 13.
A new lock pairing sees Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist and Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Skinner replace Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray, both out injured.
The hosts’ back row will be unchanged, though, with Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson carrying on as they were.
Sean Maitland starts at full-back and will be supported in the back three by Edinburgh wingers Graham, 23, and Duhan van de Merwe.
Huw Jones, a scorer off the bench against Ireland last weekend, starts alongside Glasgow Warriors team-mate Sam Johnson in the centres.
Gloucester lock Alex Craig, 23, is line for a 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.
Scrum-half Ali Price, Jaco van der Walt and Chris Harris are the backs on the bench.
Scotland’s fourth game of the championship kicks off at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium on Saturday, March 20, at 2.15pm.
They go into it in fifth place in the Six Nations table on six points from three games, one place above their visitors, yet to pick up a point after four games.Townsend, 47, said: “Saturday is an opportunity for us to show an improved performance and a much truer reflection of who we are as a team.
“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.”
Hogg, of Exeter Chiefs, is on 83 caps, with fellow ex-Greens Sutherland on 14 and Graham on 17.