Gregor Townsend has named his playing squad for Scotland’s 6 Nations opener this Saturday.
The Australia-born midfielder is one of three uncapped players named in the match-day 23, with former Fosroc Academy and Leicester Tigers hooker Jake Kerr joined by Newcastle Falcons back-row Gary Graham on the bench
Johnson is one of six personnel changes to the team that started Scotland’s final home Autumn Test win over
Glasgow Warriors wing Tommy Seymour replaces Saracens’ Sean Maitland, who has failed to recover sufficiently from a hamstring injury sustained while representing his club side Saracens.
The four remaining changes come in the pack, where hooker Stuart McInally, lock Ben Toolis, and back-row forwards Sam Skinner and Ryan Wilson start in place of injured trio Fraser Brown (knee), Jonny Gray (shoulder) and Hamish Watson (hand), and Josh Strauss, who moves to the bench.
The changes mean an all-Edinburgh tight-five will take to the field as Toolis partners Grant Gilchrist in the second-row and McInally packs down with front-row colleagues Allan Dell and Willem Nel.
Clermont Auvergne scrum-half Greig Laidlaw returns to captain once more alongside Finn Russell, who reverts to his more familiar stand-off berth to accommodate the incoming Johnson, who partners clubmate Huw Jones in midfield.
Stuart Hogg and Blair Kinghorn form the back-three with the incoming Seymour.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend, said:
“It’s a privilege to be involved in the Guinness Six Nations, a tournament that has grown in quality over the past few seasons. You can sense the excitement throughout the rugby world on the eve of this year’s Championship and we’re looking forward to our starting our campaign at BT Murrayfield.
“Italy have made life tough for Scotland in every Test match we’ve played. I remember that as a player, as a supporter and as a coach – and they were better than us in most of last season’s contest in Rome. They played with pace, were physical and we had to play really, really well in the final quarter to win.
“That performance and also the recent displays of Benetton Treviso are sharp reminders for our players that this will be a difficult fixture.
“Our challenge is to win the physical battle, which is a strength of Italian rugby. We will also have to bring energy and accuracy in order to get our campaign off to a winning start.”
Townsend also confirmed that Scotland wing Lee Jones will play no part in the opening rounds of the Guinness Six Nations campaign, having sustained a knee injury playing for Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness PRO14.
Scotland team to play Italy in the Guinness Six Nations
Saturday 2 February, kick-off 2.15pm – live on BBC
Squad players unavailable through injury: Jonny Gray (shoulder), George Horne (shoulder), Pete Horne (shoulder), Lee Jones (knee), Sean Maitland (hamstring), Grant Stewart (shoulder).
Scotland name strong team for Wales
Issued by SRU
Fresh from securing the European and Premiership double with his club Exeter Chiefs, Hogg plays at full back as one of five changes to the starting XV from the Scotland side that defeated Georgia 48-7 last week.
Finn Russell lines up at fly-half after winning his 50th Scotland cap in the Georgia victory at BT Murrayfield on Friday night, and is joined in the half-backs by Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price.
In the back division, Blair Kinghorn shifts to the wing from full-back and replaces Edinburgh teammate Duhan van de Merwe, who is named among the replacements. James Lang and Chris Harris continue their centre partnership after playing together against Georgia.
In the pack fellow Exeter Chief Jonny Gray comes into the second row and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson is selected at number 8 and will run out on his club ground on Saturday in Llanelli.Hooker Fraser Brown is named as Vice-Captain and packs down with Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in an unchanged front row.
Scott Cummings also retains his starting place to partner Gray in the second row.Edinburgh pair Jamie Ritchie, also a Vice Captain, and Hamish Watson make up the back-row with Thomson.
In the replacements Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele could make his Scotland debut if called into action.
Adam Hastings and van de Merwe complete the backline replacements. Townsend can also call upon the same front row of Oli Kebble, Stuart McInally and Simon Berghan as featured in against Georgia, alongside Worcester Warrior Cornell du Preez and Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis from the bench.
“As a group we are very much looking forward to finally completing our fixture against Wales and returning to play Guinness Six Nations rugby again. We were highly motivated back in March, and that extra edge has come back into our training and preparations this week.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend
“It’s been great to bring in quality and experience to our starting line-up with players such as Stuart, Jonny and Finn who have been involved in some high-level games in recent weeks. We were also encouraged by Blade’s display at the weekend for Scarlets, which is a timely boost given last weekend’s injury to Matt Fagerson.
“We are expecting a physical battle against a very good side, one which we will be working hard to stay in the fight and to finish the fight in Llanelli. Ultimately, this game provides an opportunity for us to end this extended championship on a positive note and go into the Autumn Nations Cup with some added belief in what this group of players can achieve.”
Wales XV announced for 6 Nations finale v Scotland.
Jones levelled the record last weekend but will take the honour for himself at Parc y Scarlets this weekend as Wales face Scotland in their re-arranged Guinness Six Nations finale (14.15 KO BBC & S4C).
At the other end of the international spectrum, Cardiff Blues back-row Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his first test appearance for Wales in a back-row alongside experienced Lions duo Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.
European Champion and English Premiership winner Tomas Francis comes into the front-row alongside Rhys Carre and Ryan Elias.
In the backline Gareth Davies partners Dan Biggar with Owen Watkin coming into the midfield alongside Jonathan Davies.
Liam Williams returns to the back-three to feature alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny.
On the bench Sam Parry, Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row replacements with Cory Hill and James Davies completing the forward contingent. Lloyd Williams comes straight into the matchday squad and provides backline cover along with Rhys Patchell and Nick Tompkins.
Issued by WRU
England name team to face Italy
Issued by Rugby Football Union
Ben Youngs is set to make his 100th cap for his country, at scrum half – becoming the second most capped England men’s player of all time after Jason Leonard (114 caps). Youngs made his senior team debut against Scotland in March 2010, where he came on as a substitute in the Calcutta Cup.
There is also a milestone for hooker Jamie George, who will make his 50th appearance for England this weekend.
Both players will lead England out at the Stadio Olimpico. England need a bonus-point win to put them in contention for winning the tournament, depending on the result in France v Ireland, which follows the game in Rome.
Jonny Hill will make his England debut at lock, while Owen Farrell, starting at fly-half, will captain the side. Henry Slade is at inside centre while Jonathan Joseph returns for England at outside centre.
George Furbank is named at full back with Jonny May and Anthony Watson on the wings.
Kyle Sinckler will play tighthead and Mako Vunipola loosehead in the front row. Maro Itoje completes the tight five.
Sam Underhill is named at open-side flanker with Tom Curry named at blind-side flanker and Billy Vunipola, returning from injury for England for the first time since the Rugby World Cup Final, at No. 8.
Uncapped trio Tom Dunn, Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Thorley are named as finishers, alongside scrum half Dan Robson. Props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart also join the bench with Charlie Ewels and Ben Earl.
Jones said: “We’ve trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy.
“The team have prepared well and are looking forward to putting on an England shirt and showing what they can do.
“We will also celebrate two major achievements in Ben Youngs and Jamie George’s cap milestones. It’s testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them.”
Italy v England is live on ITV 1 and BBC Radio 5 Live (4.45pm GMT KO).