Scotland v Italy: Rory Darge named as captain for first World Cup warm-up

Uncapped Stafford McDowall starts and Cameron Henderson on bench as countdown to RWC begins in earnest

Rory Darge has been selected for Scotland's second Test against Argentina at blindside flanker. Image: © Craig Watson -
Rory Darge will lead Scotland against Italy on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson -

SCOTLAND coach Gregor Townsend has named Rory Darge to captain the team against Italy on Saturday in the first of four Rugby World Cup warm-up games. The Glasgow Warriors openside has skippered Scotland Under-20s before, but this will be his first time leading the senior national team.

Darge’s club-mate Stafford McDowall will make his long-awaited debut at inside centre, while the other uncapped member of the training squad, Cameron Henderson, is set to win his first cap off the bench. Ollie Smith is named at full-back for the team’s first outing since former captain Stuart Hogg announced his immediate retirement from the game.

A number of senior players have been left out of the match, including Jamie Ritchie, who captained the team to third place in this year’s Six Nations, Finn Russell and Duhan van der Merwe. With a double-header against France still to come before the warm-ups end with a game against Georgia, there is still ample opportunity for those three and others to see some action before the tournament itself.

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In the back three, Darcy Graham returns on one wing after missing the whole of the Six Nations through injury, while Kyle Steyn is on the other. Chris Harris is in the midfield outside McDowall, and Ben Healy will win his second cap at stand-off alongside scrum-half Ali Price.

Rory Sutherland remains without a club following the end of his short-term deal with Ulster, but he is named at loosehead prop all the same and will partner Warriors duo George Turner and Murphy Walker in the front row. Sam Skinner – one of two vice-captains along with defensive linchpin Harris – is partnered at lock by Scott Cummings. In the back row, Edinburgh openside Luke Crosbie moves to blindside to accommodate Darge, while Matt Fagerson is at No 8.

Former Edinburgh and national captain Stuart McInally, who will retire after the World Cup, is one of five forwards on the bench.

“We will change things up [between] the first and second game, but just now this is the team we believe is best suited to winning at the weekend,” Townsend said of his selection.

The coach added that the captaincy decision was “a reflection of where we see Rory. He was a leader at under-2os level [and] he leads by example in how he trains and plays. He’ll be aided by two experienced vice-captains in Sam Skinner and Chris Harris, but we’re looking to this as a challenge for Rory, an opportunity to thrive.”

Scotland (v Italy at Scottish Gas Murrayfield, Saturday 3.15pm): O Smith (Glasgow); D Graham (Edinburgh),  C Harris (Gloucester), S McDowall (Glasgow), K Steyn (Glasgow); B Healy (Edinburgh), A Price (Glasgow); R Sutherland (unattached),  G Turner (Glasgow), M Walker (Glasgow), S Skinner (Edinburgh),  S Cummings (Glasgow), L Crosbie (Edinburgh), R Darge (Glasgow, captain), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow). Substitutes: S McInally (Edinburgh), J Bhatti (Glasgow), J Sebastian (Edinburgh), C Henderson (Leicester), J Bayliss (Bath), J Dobie (Glasgow), B Kinghorn (Edinburgh),  C Redpath (Bath).

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About Stuart Bathgate 1394 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. Thought I would go along to lend some support. Persuaded my son to come.
    Took half an hour to book two tickets online!!! Then noticed –

    “All tickets for Scotland fixtures at BT Murrayfield are being issued digitally using the new Scottish Rugby Ticketing app. As there should only be one ticket per device, all ticket holders (except children or dependants) must also download the app, so you (the purchaser) can transfer their tickets to their devices in order to enter the stadium.”

    Wish I hadn’t f….g bothered. Is there a worse organisation than the SRU?

  2. Decent team, showing off some depth. Looking forward to watching how Healy, Darge, Walker and McDowall go..

    One thing that is bothering me though, we were famously overcooked at rwc2019, looked gassed in the first game v Ireland and never recovered from that. We (alongside Italy) are the only NH teams playing this week. I think the other 6n sides have 3 warm-ups, we have 4? Hopefully this is not history repeating!

  3. Don’t really mind who they put out. This is one of 4 warm up games and its about giving everyone some game time and trying combinations. It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t actually put out our best team until the SA game in Marseilles. Lets hope we don’t get any injuries in these games which always worries me.

  4. Interesting team. Italy wont be a pushover and its a great opportunity for these guys to put a marker down.

    I guess the team that plays against France might look more like the starting line-up for the world cup.

    • Kinghorne, McConnochie, Jones, Tuipolutu, vd Merwe, Russell, White, Schoeman, Cherry, Fagerson, Cummings, Gray, Ritchie, Watson, Dempsey

    • All these guys to get a run out against France.

      Kinghorne, McConnochie, Jones, Tuipolutu, vd Merwe, Russell, White, Schoeman, Cherry, Fagerson, Cummings, Gray, Ritchie, Watson, Dempsey

      • McConnochie is injured and Kyle Rowe is training in his place. The assumption is that McConnachie will be fit for at least one warm up game. Whether he’ll make the final cut before he’s fit is another matter.

    • Interesting to see what team Italy put out. I wouldn’t put this side as favourites against their strongest XV.

  5. An interesting pick and obviously there are a number of experiments going on here. Not sure that McDowell is international material, but he has had a solid season with Glasgow. And I thought McInally had retired, but unlike Hogg he is obviously giving it one last hurrah. Would still rather have seen Ashman on the bench, for he is the future. But that is where the doubts end for me. Darge is an extremely interesting pick at captain, for the competition in that back row is going to be red-hot: himself, the Mish, Ritchie, Crosbie, Fagerson Jnr, Dempsey, Bayliss, Christie all vying for three spots, with Bradbury not even making the squad. Not the biggest set of lads collectively, but that’s not how Scotland rolls – a pack of jackals for sure. Great that Healy and his big boot are being given a shot and I expect he will seize this chance to establish himself as Russell’s regular back-up. And Redpath should never be far away from Scotland’s best team either. It is intriguing that Smith is getting a run at full back and we should not assume that Kinghorn will automatically slot in as Scotland’s first-choice 15 in future. Despite his fine attacking play, his defensive weaknesses could spell ruin against the Saffers. Either Jones or Hastings could impress in that role, but it gives Townsend his biggest headache on how best to fill the chasm that Hogg has left behind him – and what it means for balancing the equilibrium of his entire three-quarter line. At least he has options and there may yet be a twist to the full back story. Delighted also to see Jamie Dobie getting a run-out at scrum half from the bench, for he is potentially the best nine Scotland have. Murphy Walker provides some desperately needed cover at tight head and of course Cammy Henderson, the big lad with a bright future at lock is at long last getting a look-in. Suspect he will take the chance given him by this first cap to push for inclusion in the matchday 23, for Townsend will surely blood him against the Italians. A lot of guys being given the opportunity to stick their hands up here. Townsend has judged it right for me.

  6. Harris….what is it about SRU coaches and refusing to learn the most basic of lessons.

    • Yes because a test Lion and one of the best defensive centres in the world is obviously a dreadful pick. Jones is deservedly first choice off the back of the Six Nations, but it takes a squad to do well in a World Cup. Not sure who you’d suggest would be a better option than Harris.

  7. I wish people would stop knocking a company who is pouring money into Scottish Rugby and without whom life would be much tougher. We needed support when the BT agreement ended. Just look at the relative financial states of Welsh and Scottish Rugby.
    Now to the game, personally I wish Townsend was more honest, clearly this is a team trying combinations to see what works, which he needs to do but saying ‘We will change things up [between] the first and second game, but just now this is the team we believe is best suited to winning at the weekend,” is clearly nonsense. I know they are struggling to sell tickets but…

    • No one is knocking the company that delivers gas to our homes but the ludicrous attempt to ram home the message that we have a new stadium sponsor.

      Plus they may well be pouring money into the game, but how that money is being used is open to serious question, particularly given yesterday’s U20 result.

  8. Can’t wait to see them running out at Scottish Gas Murrayfield. Hopefully Durex Mark Dodson will be there to welcome his adoring fans

    • Scottish Gas Murrayfield, I’m sure our friends in the media will have been working up a full range of puns to have ready no matter what the result. : )

      • I can only hope today’s desk jockeys in the Scottish media would adopt the Dan Archer approach to sports sponsorship.

        While Sports Editor of the late-lamented Sunday Standard, Dan decreed: First time you mention a ground with a sponsored name, use the full title, including the sponsors, thereafter, use the common name.

        So, first time use in story: “Scottish Gas Murrayfield” – thereafter: “Murrayfield”. Simples.

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