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.
“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.