The versatile Edinburgh back last started at 10 for the national team in October, against Australia, and has not started in the playmaker’s role for his club this year. He comes into the XV to replace the injured Finn Russell, one of four changes to the side which lost to Ireland last weekend.
With Stuart Hogg also out injured, Ollie Smith is at full-back to face the Italians, his first involvement in this year’s championship. The other two changes are in the pack. Richie Gray has not made it after suffering rib damage against Ireland and Sam Skinner starts in the second row alongside Jonny Gray, preferred to Scott Cummings who replaced Richie Gray last Sunday and is named again among the substitutes. There is a return to the starting XV for Hamish Watson, with Matt Fagerson dropping to the bench. Watson is at openside flanker, with captain Jamie Ritchie reverting to blindside and Jack Dempsey retaining the No 8 jersey.
It’s all change on the bench where Ben Healy is in line to win his first cap. The Munster stand-off recently switched allegiance from Ireland and qualifies for Scotland through his maternal grandparents. The front-row replacements are Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland and WP Nel, with the former two set to get their first taste of action in this Six Nations. There should also be a first outing of the campaign for Cameron Redpath who is preferred to Chris Harris as the replacement centre.
A win over Italy would likely secure third place for Scotland, equalling their highest finish in the championship since it was expanded to six teams.
‘Gregor Townsend resists glut of Scotland Six Nations changes’
Scotland have not lost to Italy since 2015 and Gregor Townsend has resisted the opportunity to make too many changes for this weekend. He will go into Saturday’s match without three of his most experienced campaigners. Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Richie Gray have 242 caps between them but all picked up injuries in the defeat by Ireland and are replaced, respectively, by Ollie Smith, Blair Kinghorn and Sam Skinner.
The spotlight will inevitably fall on Kinghorn who returns to the playmaker’s role in Russell’s absence. The Edinburgh back has impressed off the bench in this Six Nations but he has been used chiefly in the back three, where he has also been playing for his club most recently.
His last start at 10 came in the 1872 Cup second leg against Glasgow at Murrayfield on December 30. He gets the nod from Townsend ahead of Ben Healy, the uncapped Munster fly-half who has agreed to move to Edinburgh from next season and will likely make his debut off the bench.
Elsewhere, Ollie Smith gets a shot at full-back in place of Hogg, Sam Skinner is preferred to Scott Cummings as Gray’s replacement at starting lock and Hamish Watson returns to the starting side with Matt Fagerson dropping to the bench. Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland and Cameron Redpath are all among the replacements and in line to make their first appearances in this season’s Six Nations.
Scotland team to play Italy in Guinness Six Nations (BT Murrayfield, 12.30pm): 15. Ollie Smith (Glasgow Warriors); 14. Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors); 13. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors); 12. Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors); 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); 10. Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby); 9. Ben White (London Irish); 1. Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby); 2. George Turner (Glasgow Warriors); 3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); 4. Sam Skinner (Edinburgh Rugby); 5. Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs); 6. Jamie Ritchie, captain (Edinburgh Rugby); 7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby); 8. Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors). Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks); 17. Rory Sutherland (Ulster Rugby); 18. WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby); 19. Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors); 20. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); 21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); 22. Ben Healy (Munster); 23. Cameron Redpath (Bath Rugby).