Scotland captain Stuart Hogg will start at stand-off for Scotland for the first time as he fills in for Finn Russell against Italy in the Guinness Six Nations on Saturday.
Racing 92 pivot Russell sustained a concussion during last week’s defeat to Ireland at Murrayfield and coach Gregor Townsend has decided to push Hogg – one of the world’s most dangerous full-backs – forward to spearhead the Dark Blues’ attack against the Azzurri in Edinburgh.
Hogg has previously stepped forward to fill the number 10 spot for the Scots and also started in the playmaker role for the British and Irish Lions during a tour match in Australia back in 2013.
Locks Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings have also been ruled out with shoulder and hand injuries, meaning Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner are recalled.
Dave Cherry takes over from George Turner at hooker following Scotland’s disastrous line-out display against the Irish as he makes his first start.
Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele also comes in to make his first start in place of Ali Price as he partners Hogg in the half-backs.
Huw Jones’ reward for scoring his first Test try in three years last Sunday is a place in the starting line-up as Chris Harris drops to the bench.
Sean Maitland fills the gap at full-back left by Hogg’s positional switch, as Darcy Graham takes the Saracens man’s spot on the wing.
Gloucester lock Alex Craig is line for his Scotland debut from the replacements as he is called into the matchday 23 for the first time.
Townsend – whose side have now followed up their historic win over England with two deflating home defeats – said: “Saturday is an opportunity for us to show an improved performance and a much truer reflection of who we are as a team. It’s also an opportunity for a number of players in their first start of the Championship.
“How we perform physically this weekend is going to be very important, both in terms of the energy and effort that is demanded from you each time you represent Scotland, and also our impacts in every contact. Whenever we play Italy, the contact area is fiercely contested and I’m sure this game will be no different.
“Italy have been playing ambitious rugby and have performed better away from home in this year’s championship, causing both England and France a number of problems. We expect them to produce their best rugby of the season against us, so we are focused on delivering a full 80-minute performance at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.”
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