SCOTLAND coach Scott Johnson has honoured his commitment to stick by the players that lost 38-18 to England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Two changes have been made through injury, Ross Ford returning at hooker for Dougie Hall, the Glasgow man still recovering from a knee knock, and Rob Harley coming in at blindside flanker for the injured Alasdair Strokosch. Johnson could have gone with David Denton in the no6 jersey, as he came off the bench for Strokosch against England, but he sees Harley more in the hard-working blindside role with Denton more of a running No 8, so Denton stays on the bench.
The 22-year-old Glasgow forward made his debut off the bench against Samoa, and marked it with the match-winning try, but will make his first start at Murrayfield and in the RBS 6 Nations Championship on Saturday. Hall and his Glasgow club-mate Pat MacArthur are both bracketed for the substitute hooker role with a decision to be made, pending Hall’s fitness, later this week.
Johnson, who said that Italy’s win against France on Sunday had not affected his selection thinking, said: “I had the pleasure of working with Robert on our tour last summer. He’s big and aggressive and he’s been knocking on the door for selection for a wee while, and he deserves this chance as a reward for his club form.
“Italy’s victory against France in Rome was well-deserved and certainly didn’t surprise us. It will be a true Test match this weekend and it would be great to have a big vocal Murrayfield crowd supporting the boys this weekend.”
Johnson’s message has not changed from the weekend, where he spoke of the need for consistency and for skills to be improved, but he is confident that the team selected has the ability to effect improvement and beat the Italians.
He spoke of looking at changing the props, and balancing the form of players like Ruaridh Jackson and Jim Hamilton, who struggled at Twickenham, with the likely difference of bringing other players in, and said he wanted to give a number of players more opportunity to find out if they can cut it at Test level.
He knows that Italy will arrive confident of backing up their opening win with another Murrayfield victory, but insisted that that did not faze him.
“Trust me we will be walking towards the pressure, not away from it,” he said.
More than 45,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s match and tickets are on sale at £30, £40 and £70 for adults and £15, £20 and £35 for students/under-18s via www.scottishrugby.org; on the 24-hour-credit card hotline 0844 335 3933 or in person from the Scottish Rugby Ticket Centre, Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh.
Scotland team to play Italy in the RBS 6 Nations Championship on Saturday 9 February at Murrayfield (kick-off 2.30pm):
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) 11 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
14 Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors) 1 cap, 1 try, 5 points
13 Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) 72 caps, 8 tries, 40 points
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby) 8 caps
11 Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby) 6 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
10 Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) 16 caps, 2 conversions, 2 penalties, 2 drop-goals, 16 points
9 Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) vice captain 14 caps, 2 tries, 12 conversions and 24 penalties, 106 points
1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors) vice captain 6 caps
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby) 64 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
3 Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors) 50 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
4 Richie Gray (Sale Sharks) 28 caps, 1 try. 5 points
5 Jim Hamilton (Gloucester) 42 caps, 1 try, 5 points
6 Robert Harley (Glasgow Warriors) 1 cap, 1 try, 5 points
7 Kelly Brown (Saracens) captain, 53 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
8 Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier) 17 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
16 Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors) 40 caps, 1 try, 5 points or Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors) uncapped
17 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) 15 caps
18 Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) 17 caps, 1 try, 5 points
19 Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors) 48 caps, 1 try, 5 points
20 David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) 10 caps
21 Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) 4 caps, 1 try, 5 points
22 Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) 2 caps, 1 conversion, 2 points
23 Max Evans (Castres) 33 caps, 3 tries, 15 points
Not considered due to injury: Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Peter Horne, Chris Cusiter, and Chris Fusaro (all Glasgow Warriors), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby) and Scott Lawson (London Irish).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa). Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland) and Leighton Hodges (Wales). TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)