Scotland announce team to face Italy in Singapore

Gregor Townsend has been forced to ring the changes as he takes charge of Scotland for the first time when they kick off their summer tour against Italy in Singapore on Saturday.

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Gregor Townsend (left) has named his first starting XV as Scotland head coach. Picture: SNSGregor Townsend (left) has named his first starting XV as Scotland head coach. Picture: SNS
Gregor Townsend (left) has named his first starting XV as Scotland head coach. Picture: SNS

The new head coach had stressed the need for continuity, but with key players away on the Lions tour, others dropping out through injury and some returning that was always going to be difficult.

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Townsend has made nine changes to his starting XV from the side that played the same opposition in the RBS Six Nations in March.

The big plus for him is being able to start WP Nel, the Edinburgh tighthead prop who would have been a shoo-in for the Lions but for a neck injury that kept him down to 27 minutes of action since October.

Despite his lack of action Nel start will his first Test since the summer tour last year, having featured for the Barbarians 10 days ago.

“If you start someone who has been out, you can control their game time,” Townsend said. “Off the bench, you can’t really control if somebody gets injured.

“WP has trained really well, showed excellent work rate, got stuck into all contact sessions and is the player in our squad who has played most recently. He got a lot of confidence out of that game for the Barbarians.”

Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, off with the Lions, are replaced by Duncan Taylor and Damien Hoyland respectively, Matt Scott comes into the centre in place of Huw Jones, who tore a knee ligament. The rest of the backline is the one that played in Vern Cotter’s last game.

The forwards have changed heavily, with lock Jonny Gray rested after an exhausting season and flanker Hamish Watson missing out with a minor groin problem.

Only hooker Ross Ford and skipper John Barclay featured in both sides, with the two significant changes being the return of Josh Strauss at No8 after tearing a kidney, and Ben Toolis getting his second cap at lock two years after his first.

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“Ben has been in outstanding form,” Townsend added. “He is a line-out leader, very good at competing for opposition ball, he is very athletic and works hard. We are exciting to see him working with Tim [Swinson].”

Townsend is looking forward to the game, hoping he can launch his international career with a win.

“Any selection is tough, at international level selection is one of the most important factors in success,” Townsend said.

“We have a tour of three games and a squad of 34 so I imagine the teams will change before the end of the tour.

“This was about seeing new combinations, rewarding players in form and also allowing an opportunity to players who have worked hard and got back from being injured - the likes of Nel, Strauss, and Scott. It was as difficult as any selection.

“We want to play well, prepare a team to win, to find a way to win. that may be with what we have prepared and the rugby we have worked on; it might be adapting to the opposition and the conditions and finding another way to win.

“It is an opportunity for them to play for their country and do as well as they can.”

Scotland [v Italy]: D Taylor (Saracens); D Hoyland (Edinburgh), M Scott (Gloucester), A Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), T Visser (Harlequins); F Russell (Glasgow Warriors), A Price (Glasgow Warriors); A Dell (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), WP Nel (Edinburgh), T Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), B Toolis (Edinburgh), J Barclay (Scarlets), J Hardie (Edinburgh), J Strauss (Glasgow Warriors).

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Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow Warriors), G Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Z Fagrson (Glasgow Warriors), R Harley (Glasgow Warriors), M Bradbury (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), H Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors), P Horne (Glasgow Warriors).