Italy v Scotland: Chris Harris, Stuart McInally and Ben Toolis given starts

Huw Jones drops out of the match-day squad altogether after starting first two rounds of this Six Nations campaign

Chris Harris has replaced Huw Jones in the Scotland team to face Italy on Saturday. Image: FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON
Chris Harris has replaced Huw Jones in the Scotland team to face Italy on Saturday. Image: FOTOSPORT/DAVID GIBSON

GREGOR TOWNSEND has given an indication that he is expecting a war of attrition in the middle of the park when Scotland take on Italy on Saturday by handing Chris Harris the No 13 jersey for the crucial encounter, with Huw Jones dropping out of the squad altogether.

There are two other changes to the side that started against England last time out, with Stuart McInally swapping in at hooker for Fraser Brown, while Ben Toolis starts in the second row in place of the injured Jonny Gray.

There are four changes on the bench, with second-row Grant Gilchrist and wing Byron McGuigan taking the places vacated by Harris and Toolis, while Edinburgh tighthead Willem Nel and Glasgow No 8 Matt Fagerson replace Simon Berghan and Nick Haining respectively.

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“We believe Chris and Stuart deserve this opportunity,” said Townsend. “They were very close to the starting 15 when we entered this campaign. We think this is the right time for them to come in.

“Chris has been excellent for Gloucester this season and has continued to make improvements since the summer. He works very hard on both sides of the ball, which will be important this week.

“Stuart has shown over the past few weeks he’s back to full fitness and is raring to go, and Ben gets an opportunity to start following Jonny’s injury against England. Second row is a position we have a lot of competition with a number of very good players available for selection. We’re looking forward to seeing how he combines again with Scott [Cummings] after a successful outing together against Russia in the World Cup.

“Italy are always a very tough opponent, especially in Rome, where we know they’ll look to play with a huge amount of energy,” Townsend added. “It’s a different Italy team to the one we’ve played in the past. In their opening two games of the championship they have played with real ambition and width.

“They’ve also selected athletic ball-players who suit this strategy and are comfortable playing at a high tempo. We are well aware of the threats throughout their team and how their attacking game can cause problems for any defence.”

Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham returned to training last week but has not yet recovered sufficiently from his knee injury to be considered for this Test match.

Scotland (v Italy at Stadio Olimpico, Saturday 2.15pm GMT): S Hogg; S Maitland, C Harris, S Johnson, B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price; R Sutherland, S McInally, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, B Toolis, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Subs: F Brown, A Dell, W Nel, G Gilchrist, M Fagerson, G Horne, R Hutchinson, B McGuigan.

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About David Barnes 3532 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Seems as though we are picking exactly the team Italy would wish us to pick, I am very nervous about this game. Italy may have been poor in defence on the road, but they made some really good tries against France when it would have been quite legitimate for them to buckle.
    Hogg finally had a good game this year unfortunately for the Exeter chiefs, but he alone will not break the Italian defence, Matt Scott has been making line breaks and surely warranted a look in. I given Horne a crack over price he was all over the place for the warriors and captain to Hamish Watson or Ritchie!
    Scotland are out of the running for the 6N title, so why not at least blood new players and roll the dice, or do we only do this when appointing the national coach?

  2. Sounds like damage limitation to me. If changes were needed then change wingers and bring mcguigan in and keep kinghorn on the bench to come on when we need inspiration. Agree would have Horne on at scrum half and we may as well go for flair at centre and have Jones and Hutchinson and just give it a go. Personally i miss Russell but he wont be back until Autumn tests with a new coach. Bet Fiji will improve under Vern.

  3. Toolis is a no brainer as the only lock left who packs down at 5. You don’t go into a game against that Italian pack without a tighthead lock.

    I’m sure I read somewhere earlier in the week that Jones has been struggling with injury, and I wonder how many of those hyping Hutchinson have actually been watching him. He’s lethal in attack but there are some major frailties in his defence, it’s improving but well organised sides like Ireland or Italy would cut him to pieces. Likewise anyone who has watched Gloucester consistently will know Harris is a very good player.

    Horne is a superb and very exciting player but his kicking is by far the poorest aspect of his game and whether we like it or not an international 9 has to be able to kick these days.

    • Just as so many people are saying that a good game against Italy won’t count for Harris the same is true for Hutchinson.

    • I’ve been watching Hutchinson and he’s gott something about him and I’m sure he could be taught to defend better. Harris is a strong defender but brings little attacking threat, I guess it’s about deciding on what the priority is. On Horne, he’s probably Glasgows no1 attacker and he should at least get more game time. All said and done I hope harris proves me wrong and the team get the job done.

  4. Just joined the Townsend bemusement club like everyone below.
    Is he keeping Graham for the last two tougher games , maybe, but if he is fit this is an easier game to return with than France or Wales. No idea about the Price & Horne jnr situation , to me Horne jnr is our way to go. It also looks like Finn is going to take no part in the 6N this year, it’s called man management Townsend and it’s your task to do it, not go off in the huff, spit out your dummy and damage not only your own reputation but any hopes Scotland have in this years competition.
    Not sure about Harris but I have seen McGuigan in the Premiership games and he has been OK , scoring tries at least. Agree with everyone about Hutchinson and Jones but thought Matt Scott might be worth a place on the bench. Somehow the backs look light weight and I get this feeling we have better players somewhere but not in this team.
    When can we play Duhan van der Merwe , is it the summer, as Picard would say Make it So.

    • “not go off in the huff, spit out your dummy and damage not only your own reputation but any hopes Scotland have in this years competition.”

      Err isnt that Finn who has done exactly that…

    • Not a fan of GT, but I don’t think Finn has done himself any favours for future seasons, there is a saying “your ego is not your amigo”.

      Finn will need to win over his team mates not just the coaching staff. So even if GT & team have gone, the squad will need to see some humility from Finn, to let him back in.

      I will always support any man that can play for Scotland, but it a team that wins the game not a single player.

  5. Very poor starting 15 from Townsend. I commented in a previous post about good talent out there not even being considered by Townsend and he has done it again. The selection is predicable as is the game plan from Scotland. Townsend has made changes were change is not required, were change is required he is still playing the same players that have cost Scotland two defeats in a row.
    The alarm bells must be ringing now in the SRU, even if Scotland pull of a freak win in Rome they still have difficult games ahead to complete the 6 nations.
    This has been a painfully and embarrassing time for Scottish rugby poor world cup
    Little success in previous 6 nations.

  6. What a miserable selection. Leaves out the best scrum half and the most creative 12. What does Hutchinson have to do? What did Haining do wrong? Bradbury wasn’t up to much and Haining was the best forward we had in Dublin.
    Townsend obviously hasn’t a clue and is making wild changes for no obvious reasons other than not having a game plan. He obviously wants to keep on battering it up close rather than trying something slightly more expansive.
    He has to go as we have gone hugely backwards in the last two years
    Could get rid of fat cat Dodson at the same time

    • Spot on!
      “GREGOR TOWNSEND has given an indication that he is expecting a war of attrition…” That is his only “gameplay”, ever, it seems.

  7. I think Harris is underrated as an attacking threat. The line he cut for his try against France in the summer was superb, and he looked more threatening than Jones against Ireland (admittedly in the final quarter of the game, and with more of a ball-playing 12 on the pitch).

    In any case, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a steady, solid midfield and expecting the half-backs and back three to provide the excitement.

    • It was a nice try but he has had 1 stand out moment in about 10 caps, sorry but has not been enough to grab my attention. Jones and Bennett had demonstrated far more prowess in far less a number of caps respectively, Jones was back to some very good club form and this Italy game was probably the ideal platform for him to boost his confidence further. I would love to be proved wrong but if Chris Harris is seemingly the answer for Scotland at 13, I suggest we are asking all the wrong questions

    • I don’t get Harris, he offers no impact when he comes off the bench, steady and safe won’t move us to the next level. I’m a fan of Jones but worry that’s he’s a confidence player, I’d love to see Hutchinson play, he mixes his play up but 10 mins at the end isn’t long enough. Fingers crossed we win but we do need to freshen up the coaches after this tournament. Time to use the pro 14 cvc money on a new coach and not just on bonuses.

  8. I must be missing something when it comes to Chris Harris, honestly. Huw Jones has done very little wrong, he was involved well enough in Dublin and had a quiet game in the rain soaked game against England but hardly any backs got any ball that day. Harris is a reasonable player but for me lacks x factor, I would have Jones/Bennett ahead of him and possibly also Kyle Steyn too. With no Russell, no Graham, no Jones…we really need to see something from our backs- might require a bit of Hogg magic which we are overdue!

  9. I’ve nothing against Chris Harris but this selection promises a pretty uninspiring afternoon’s viewing on Saturday. No Finn, no Huw, no D’Arcy makes us extremely dependent on Captain Hogg to conjure up magic moments to create some space to attack.

    • I respectfully disagree. Would like to have seen Matt Scott given a start, but plenty ability in that back line to give Italy problems whilst defending well.

      If suspect George Horne will be brought on soon after half time.

      Tools and McInally should improve the line out.

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