It’s a proud moment for Sam Johnson says Scotland’s Gregor Townsend

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend says Australia-born Glasgow centre Sam Johnson has earned the right to make his debut in tomorrow’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy at BT Murrayfield.
Gregor Townsend insists Sam Johnson is ready for his step up. Picture: SNS/SRUGregor Townsend insists Sam Johnson is ready for his step up. Picture: SNS/SRU
Gregor Townsend insists Sam Johnson is ready for his step up. Picture: SNS/SRU

The 25-year-old Queenslander became eligible for Scotland last summer after three years of residence and Townsend insisted it will be a proud moment for Johnson and his family when he partners clubmate Huw Jones in the home midfield.

“His parents are flying over from Australia,” said the Scotland coach. “He’s settled in Scotland and feels very much part of our country.”

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Townsend added that, if anything, the chance to represent his adopted nation was overdue. He added: “It’s been a few months in coming for Sam. He was going to be in our squad for November then got injured the weekend before we came into camp.

“He’s been in Scotland for over three years now, worked his way into the Glasgow team and then became one of their best players.

“I do think he’s ready for this next step up. You need a body of work behind you, you need to perform at the highest level
for your club, which is the Champions Cup. Two seasons ago he played some excellent games for Glasgow in that competition and was voted the players’ player of the season.

“He’s also played well this year when he’s had those opportunities.”

Outside the centres, Blair Kinghorn starts for the seventh time in eight caps after Sean Maitland was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Townsend added: “We always knew Sean would be fortunate if he came back to full fitness in time. He got injured playing for Saracens against Lyon [on 13 January]. He’s been managed well and is back up to almost 100 per cent running so he should be okay for next week [the home game against Ireland].”

Lock Jonny Gray is also out with a shoulder injury, which means the entire front five come from in-form Edinburgh, with Ben Toolis partnering Grant Gilchrist in the second row.

Exeter Chiefs lock/blindside Sam Skinner returns at No 6, where he started against South Africa in November. There are two uncapped players on the bench in the shape of Leicester hooker Jake Kerr and Newcastle flanker Gary Graham.

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For the latter, it should lead to an end of the long-running saga concerning the Stirling-born openside’s commitment after he was included in an England training squad ahead of last year’s tournament.

Jamie Ritchie is rewarded for his fine November Test and club form with a start at openside in the absence of injured Edinburgh team-mate Hamish Watson. With Skinner able to cover second row, No 8
 Josh Strauss is on the bench.

Townsend said he was braced for a fierce clash with an Italian side he accepts should have beaten his side in Rome last year. He knows, though, that the fixture presents a great opportunity to get off the mark with a win and look to build momentum.

“We do have a platform playing at home and not having to travel next week to really grab this opportunity,” he said.