SAM JOHNSON will make his first appearance in Scotland’s World Cup warm-up campaign against Georgia at the Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi on Saturday evening, after recovering from an ankle injury. He will line-up in the centre alongside Northampton Saints star Rory Hutchinson as Gregor Townsend makes 10 changes to the team which defeated France last weekend for an encounter which is certain to be brutally physical and played in muggy conditions.
Scotland will be the first Tier One national side to travel for a Test match on Georgian soil, which doubles as the last opportunity for players to stake their claim for the final 31-man Rugby World squad, which will be announced by Townsend on Tuesday.
Hooker Stuart McInally returns to captain the side once again, having done so in the opening Test against France in Nice, and with Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay his vice-captains on this occasion, he now seems a stick-on to lead the squad in Japan. Meanwhile, the team also features first campaign starts for full-back Blair Kinghorn, prop Allan Dell and No 8 Matt Fagerson.
There is still no Jonny Gray and Magnus Bradbury, who have been nursing hamstring and rib injuries, respectively.
It is a bold team selection, putting several players who will be absolutely crucial to Scotland’s World Cup campaign in the firing line against the notoriously physical Georgians, including Finn Russell at stand-off,Laidlaw at scrum-half, McInally at hooker, WP Nel at tight-head prop and Hamish Watson at open-side flanker.
“We’re pleased to welcome Sam [Johnson] back into the side, having performed so well for us in the spring, while a number of other players also get the opportunity to build on Saturday’s performance,” said Townsend. “There were improvements in our back-to-back games against France, in particular in defence, game management and at scrum, as well some elements of our attack.
“All of these will be put to the test against a very good Georgian side who we expect to be extremely motivated by their passionate home support. We’re expecting a very physical and confrontational encounter, which will be a great test for our squad. In order to rise to this challenge, we must take the game to our hosts right from the start, playing with relentless effort and accuracy.”
Scotland (v Georgia in Tbilisi, 8pm local time, 5pm BST, live on Premier Sports): Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Rory Hutchinson (Northampton Saints), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Saracens); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw VICE CAPTAIN (Clermont Auvergne); Allan Dell (London Irish), Stuart McInally CAPTAIN (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), John Barclay VICE CAPTAIN (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).
Substitutes: Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors), Jamie Bhatti (Edinburgh), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Josh Strauss (Blue Bulls), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors).