Scotland hand debut to Sam Johnson for Six Nations opener

Edinburgh (AFP) –


Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend will hand a Test debut to Glasgow centre Sam Johnson for the Six Nations opener at home to Italy on Saturday.

Newcastle flanker Gary Graham, previously called up by England coach Eddie Jones, and Leicester hooker Jake Kerr could also win their first caps if they appear off the bench.

Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn will start on the left wing as the Dark Blues welcome the Azzurri to Murrayfield.

With Edinburgh resurgent under Richard Cockerill this season, Townsend has chosen to go with the capital outfit's tight five. Hooker Stuart McInally will squeeze in between props Allan Dell and WP Nel, with Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist forming the second row.

Exeter lock Sam Skinner will slot into the back row after showing he can fill in at flanker during his impressive introduction to the national team set-up during the autumn, with Ryan Wilson and Jamie Ritchie completing the back row.

Skipper Greig Laidlaw will partner Racing 92 star Finn Russell in the half-backs, while Australia-born Johnson, who qualifies on residency grounds after signing for Glasgow in 2015, lines up alongside Huw Jones in midfield.

Stuart Hogg will again provide an attacking threat from full-back as he slots in beside Kinghorn, deputising for the injured Sean Maitland, and Tommy Seymour in the back three.

"Italy have made life tough for Scotland in every Test match we've played," said Townsend. "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."

"Our challenge is to win the physical battle, which is a strength of Italian rugby," he added. "We will also have to bring energy and accuracy in order to get our campaign off to a winning start."

Scotland (15-1)

Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt), Ryan Wilson, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Willem Nel, Stuart McInally, Allan Dell

Replacements: Jake Kerr, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Gary Graham, Josh Strauss, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris