Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insists the move to change a third of the team for the final NatWest Six Nations game is mainly tactical, with the starting line-up and bench he feels is best suited to the test of facing Italy in Rome on Saturday.
After a fairly consistent selection policy throughout the competition, Townsend has sprung a few surprises, including the omission of Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist, who has been getting good reviews, from the 23 altogether. Tim Swinson is promoted to start alongside Glasgow team-mate Jonny Gray, with his brother Richie on the bench and in line for a first taste of Six Nations action this year after returning from injury.
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Hooker Stuart McInally has been one of Scotland’s star men in the last four games but drops to the bench and is replaced by fit-again Fraser Brown.
Tommy Seymour returns to the wing after recovering from a back injury and Nick Grigg starts at inside centre in place of Peter Horne, who had a disappointing game in the 28-8 loss to Ireland in Dublin at the weekend.
After singling out tighthead Simon Berghan for praise in Ireland, he too drops out of the squad altogether as WP Nel makes his first start since breaking his arm against Samoa and Zander Fagerson comes on to the bench.
“It’s partly because of who we are playing against, and we believe that the challenges they present and the things we are looking to do in our gameplan and the players [picked] are suited to do that,” said Townsend.
“Tommy coming back from injury is a boost. He would have been selected last week. There’s the availabitlity of quality players; Richie has played two games so he come onto the bench.
“Zander has trained for three weeks. It is the right time to bring them back.
“Also, the management of energy. Stuart McInally has been outstanding and we believe we can make good use of him off the bench, and we are confident that Fraser can do a good job at the beginning.”
Townsend said the squad are determined that a campaign which has contained crushing lows and dizzying highs should be ended in the most positive fashion possible.
“If we were to lose we would be pretty disappointed, given the effort we have put in,” said the coach. “To lose two in a row would be disappointing. Losing your last game is never enjoyable.
“Wining would be progress. It would show the players have learned. But we know it will be tough as Italy are at home and have shown they can be very good in parts of the game.
“They will play with commitment and will stretch the play wide.”
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