Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Five changes in Scotland team to play Italy

Italy v Scotland
© Scottish Rugby Blog

Gregor Townsend has made five changes to the team to face Italy. The Toony Tombola strikes!

There aren’t many faces who haven’t yet featured but the squad has rotated a fair bit. The exceptions are Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray who but for injury would have been part of the plans pre-tournament but who have been kept back by injury.

With WP Nel starting up front, there’s no place for Simon Berghan which seems slightly unfair given the way he played against both England and France, but it has laid down a marker for the other two in terms of work in the loose.

Grant Gilchrist becomes the latest lock to rotate out back to Edinburgh, again harsh in light of his form but also understandable given some key mistakes in the Ireland game. The faltering lineout also means Fraser Brown is given a chance to live up to Stuart McInally’s high standards. That must be the reason – either that or my player of the tournament so far is knackered.

These guys coming back in may have the edge in reputation, technical or set piece work but a standard was set in the England game for workrate in the loose and everyone it seems now has to live up to it, even the guys who set it.

In the back line things are more settled with Tommy Seymour fit again coming straight back in. Kinghorn did little wrong against Ireland but actually, he could be very handy off the bench against tiring legs. The main change is Nick Grigg and Pete Horne swapping, giving Grigg a real chance to show what he can offer in the 12 shirt, which is not as full of potential candidates as 13 when everyone is fit.

Whether Italy see this selection as a slight like they did* with Wales remains to be seen but it is still a pretty strong team.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Nick Grigg, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, WP Nel, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (capt), Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Jamie Bhatti, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, David Denton, Ali Price, Pete Horne, Blair Kinghorn.

* or were rumoured to, thanks FF.

52 Responses

  1. Quite keen on the team for Italy. Bit cagey about Swinson and Laidlaw starting, but otherwise pretty happy, and even though I’m cagey, it’s a personal preference rather than a lack of confidence in them.

    1. Not sure how keen I am on Grigg at 12 but he’s a fantastic player so I hope he nails his chance. Gutted Kinghorn isn’t starting as he has a big future and I think he’d get a damn sight more ball against italy than Ireland. Seymour isn’t up to his usually high standards.

      We’re building some decent depth though which is encouraging – except at FH obviously.

      1. I’ve just realised that neither of our centres can pass… hmm… bit concerned about that, if I’m honest.

      2. Well on that basis neither can Horne. Jones passed well enough breaking away against England etc. Grigg shouldn’t be next in line for a start at 12: Dunbar / Taylor / Scott / Jones / Horne / Grigg in that order.

      3. Horne’s shown plenty of times that he can. Grigg and Jones have shown plenty of times that they can’t.

      4. I’m talking about reality. Horne is better at passing for both Warriors and Scotland.

  2. Italy were quoted repeatedly saying the Wales selection wasn’t seen as a slight – it was a Welsh pundit who suggested it was in the build up.

    This is a strong selection and despite the changes is clearly a proper Scotland team team – there are no naive debutants or fringe players in the 23.

    We need to win this tidily with minimum fuss and a BP to make sure we join the contenders pack properly and leave behind the wooden spoon make weights. A loss would be a total disaster, so it is a big game for us.

  3. Although there are 5 changes you could make solid arguments for all of them; Rambo deserves a bit of a break, ditto Berghan, Gilchrist and Horne had poor games against Ireland, and Tommy is back from injury and is the incumbent winger.

    I agree that Kinghorn may have more of an impact off the bench against tiring legs, and the same goes for Price although I would have liked to have seen Price start as Laidlaw hasn’t had a week off since Wales and looked a bit laboured last week.

    I would expect that we’ll see off Italy fairly comfortably, and I would be a bit disappointed to not get a bonus point win too.

  4. It a good team and should come away with a win. Frustrating not to see another younger face on the bench though like Matt Fagerson to replace Denton. Denton did alright against Ireland but is too one dimensional and the faster the younger players get international experience the better they will be for the World Cup.

  5. Made up to see Grigg get a start. Absolute nugget of a player and will be relentless in burrowing forward.

    Harsh on Kinghorn but Seymour is a classy player and maybe needs this game against Italy to get back into his rhythm. Kinghorn will have plenty caps in the future and coming of the bench with 20 to play could be an exciting prospect.

    I expect Hoggy to cut loose in this one.

    Need a professional first half, don’t butcher chances like last week and then foot on the gas last 30. No room for complacency though – Italy have shown some excellent backs work this championship.

  6. Don’t think you can call any of the changes a slight, exception might be starting Swinson.

    My worry with Grigg is his tendency to rush out in defence and create holes. Hopefully he’s got the defensive patterns learnt.

    I’m surprised not to see someone else starting at 8. Even if Wilson has passed the return to play protocols that was a big knock he took and we’ve depth in the backrow so it was an ideal chance to see how someone else gets on at the back of the scrum.

    Seymour must know that Kinghorn is pressuring him for his starting spot so he’s going to have to perform back at his best!

  7. Kind of feel sorry for Kinghorn who was arguably our best back on Saturday – obviously Seymour is a quality player on his day but Kinghorn is the future and should have been starting today after his great performance against Ireland.

  8. Very strong team. I wonder how things would have gone had we been able to play this 23 from the beginning of the campaign?

  9. Interestingly, the odds have swung back to Italy’s favour: they’re down from 10/1 to 6/1.

    1. 6/1 still quite long odds for a 2 horse race. Still, wonder what that’s about. Bookies drive big cars so they aren’t daft.

      1. True, but it’s still quite a drop. Maybe it’s simply a result of the number of bets people have placed on Italy winning. 10/1 certainly seems to be worth a tenner.

    2. Odds don’t matter as it’s all about the players on the pitch. I only time I use odds to give me an idea of what is going to happen is for elections as the bookies collect large levels of data to try and get it right.

      And even 6/1 are HUGE odds considering Brexit was 2/1 to happen and Trump was 3/1 to become president and both were considered highly unlikely to happen

      1. Not really; bookies odds reflect the money placed. Evidently there has been a swing in the past week or so in terms of money being placed on Italy. All bookies care about is balancing the books to guarantee as big a profit as possible. So its whether you trust the “wisdom of the crowd” or not.

  10. Thoughts:

    The front row replacements looks incredibly dynamic. I actually think it looks like the best balanced and dynamic bench as a whole that
    Would probably prefer Richie to Swinson, but I suppose its a chance for Swinson to stake a claim – The lineout has definitely been a ‘net negative’ this championship – so I suppose its no surprise its been freshened up.
    Happy to see Grigg playing, but without Horne this puts more pressure on Russell’s distribution and in turn means that Laidlaw has to feed him earlier – otherwise we could easily be snuffed out by the rush defence.
    Kinghorn can feel unlucky not to keep his place, but I suppose Seymour is the more experienced player and if fit I suppose has earned his place – hopefully the pressure raises his game back to his 2017 levels

      1. Really don’t see the point in starting Swinson. He’s even shorter than Gilchrist for a start when we have a 6”10 former lion on the bench. Surely would have been more sensible to start Richie and at least bring Swinson on if Gray is still struggling for match fitness…

  11. Just listened to the Toonie interview on Facebook. He talked quite openly about the different defense that Italy deploy compared with England and Ireland and how there is less opportunity to go wide. Looks like he’s picked Grigg to take on a human cannon ball role through the midfield. Expecting us to be much more direct this week. Also think some of the other changes are about fresh legs. Some of the guys looked pretty tired at the end of the Ireland game. Bench looks like it could have a good impact.

  12. If there is a team to play a bash it up 12 against its Italy. Whilst us and Ireland look flaky out wide they look suspect up the middle with their first up tackling. See some of tries Wales got against them. Im not sure we need to be making all these out the back stuff to go wide on 1st phase against Italy.

    Grigg or Pinball bang it up enough they will break tackles quick clean out and then Russell, Hogg and Jones make hay. Which is why I would have played Dents this time as he is made for that.

    Also and its very sad to say this is Parisse now somebody we go after rather than avoid? He seems to be falling off a lot of tackles this year. I wonder if this will be his last match against us.

    1. I think Parisse is struggling. He looked knackered against Wales and didn’t show the influnce he ususally has. Let’s get Wilson at him.

      1. For 10 years he was Italy’s best player. Now I don’t think he is their best back row player. Negri is a machine!

        Whatever happens Chapeau to the man though.

      2. I hope he retires with his reputation intact – an amazing player. To stick it out in those Italy sides says a massive amount about the man.

        Genuinely one of the greats.

  13. Horne out means Russell is our sole distributor. Toony testing him? Add the pressure back on against a slightly weaker team. Let’s see how he reacts.

    Grigg in is interesting. If Italy’s defence is harder to get round as Toony says, then Grigg will be carrying hard, which he is excellent at. It also gives Russell the opportunity to pull the ball in behind to Jones or the back three if Grigg is pulling in 2 or 3 defenders. Russell will have to be aware and brave, releasing the pass at the last second. No doubt he’ll take a few hits, get up and have a chuckle to himself!

    Seymour is a nailed on starter. We don’t have another player who is as consistent in the air. No slight on Kinghorn at all – his time will come and he may have a field day in the last 20 minutes.

    Glad to see Wilson back. Tireless, agressive, good skills.

    Italy have been good out wide, unerthing some good looking backs. Our defence needs to be good. Do the basics well and we should win comfortably…..if not there’s always the possibility of problems. Roll on Super Saturday!

    1. Always been a fan of Wilson, but I think his value to the team has been more visible this 6N. He’s surprised me with his all round skills…

  14. Not surprised to see changes in the pack. It was a big defensive effort against the Irish, and some of the guys like Rambo and Berghan have been doing long stints in matches. With fatigue in mind, I’m actually a little surprised Pinball is starting – he must have excellent powers of recovery.

    I’m a big fan of Brown, but the lineout isn’t the strongest part of his game – I doubt he has been brought in to shore up that area. Swinson and Johnny aren’t the biggest locks either, so I don’t know if that’ll have an impact on the lineout.

    In the backs, I thought Price might get the nod, but its a fair call to stick with Laidlaw. Good luck to Grigg. There’s a lot I like about him, but I still have some doubts about him at this level and stage of his career. Looking forward to him proving my doubts unfounded :D

    Welcome back Ritchie. Seems like ages since we last saw him play for Scotland. Its a strong looking bench…

    1. Brown is throwing to Swinson, Grey and Wilson. All his Glasgow teammates. That might be the thinking?

  15. Anybody else noted this starting XV is basically Glasgow plus Greeg, Pinball and Nel… (I appreciate Barclay was pre-Toony and Jones post)

      1. Yep. Get that. But they Reid and Maitland played under Toony at Glasgow and Barclay was at Glasgow pre-Toony. Merely an observation….

      2. I suppose only having 2 professional teams means such coincidences are more likely, particularly if we stretch the timeframe?

  16. Thats one hell of a bench
    i expect hogg to come in as second receiver alot for this game.
    Feels like the type of game george horne would be perfect through if they are creating gaps through the middle, he would finish off everytime, too early i guess though.

  17. Fair selection by GT I think.
    Italy are tough to break down and put alot of energies into the 1st 60mins. They seem to tire exponentially after that though….seems to be what GTs selection reflects.
    Swinson in, seems to me to suggest GT thinks grunt is way more important than lineout height.
    Very strong athletic bench to attack Italy in 2nd half. Not the match for young up good as they look and as much as we want to see them…summer and AI is the time for them to get introduced.

  18. If required Hogg will come into the line & distribute, this is a team to really challenge Italy physically from the off. Grigg (whilst I personally reckon he’s a shade below test level) will really have a go @ breaching the gain line.
    Tough on Berghan who has been excellent so far.
    Swinson adds some grunt.

    I assume we will be looking to really rack up the phases & see what gaps open up, bench strong for later.

  19. Reading into GT press quotes sounds like GT sees Ritchie Gray & Zander Fagerson his 1st choices for their respective spots when next 6N and WC comes around.

  20. If you’re leaving any players out because they need a rest, top of that list should be Huw Jones.

    Straight from the RSA season and Currie Cup final into the PRO14, and as far as I can remember has played every minute of the 6N so far ?

    1. He had a few months out injured last summer. Think a few of the other 13s will be available over the summer so he might get another rest.

      1. Completely agree The Chiel. If you look at how much Rugby Huw Jones has played since 2016 it’s just insane.

        From February to October in 2016 he must of played nearly 30 times for the Stormers in Super Rugby/Currie Cup. Then less than a month after his season is over he is making his first start for Scotland in the Autumn International where he plays a key part before getting less than two months off before he is back in the Scotland squad for the six nations where he plays just about every minute before he gets injured just before the end of the 1st half in our final match.

        Finally he gets some sort of break but returns in July after a 4 month lay-off and plays a full part in a non-stop Currie Cup where his side win the final (on October the 31st). Then 11 days later he is playing for Scotland again and plays just about every minute of 3 physical autumn international.

        Then instead of being given at least a month to recover for the six nations Glasgow chuck him in straight after the Autumn internationals and his game time hasn’t got any less during the six nations.

        I know he is a machine but the guy needs a break like crazy.

      2. Agreed Blake

        Bennett, Scott, Grigg, Dean, hell even Duncan Taylor are capable of playing 13 for the summer tests.

        Jones having May-September off will do him and Glasgow the world of good for the start of the PRO14 campaign next season. Obviously he will need to do pre season but at least the game intensity will be removed.

  21. It’s been a very long time when a Scotland coach can release so many players yet still have, not only a very strong starting fifteen but an excellent bench (to come on in 2nd half & hopefully ‘make hay’ against a tiring Italian team).

    Has Cockers been on asking Toonie if he can do without Bergan & Gilchrist for Saturday? These guys will undoubtedly beef up the Edinburgh pack for their crunch game vs Munster on Friday night. I’m sure the entire SRU management team would relish having our only 2 Pro14 teams in the play-offs. As I’ve said above, I do believe Toonie can do this without weakening Saturday’s team.

  22. I’m still really surprised about how inexperienced our team is. Wales have 400 more caps in their starting 15 against France than we have in our entire 23! This bodes well for the RWC: an extra 10 or so caps per player (assuming similar squad rotation) will put us in a pretty good place next year, and a really good place in 2023. Exciting stuff.

  23. We at last have moved on,we now have strength in depth after all these years,let us hope that Gregor can keep them all interested and enthusiastic.

    1. I’m sure he will. The other indicator of growing strength and depth is that during this 6N our two Pro 14 clubs don’t appear to have suffered as much as they have in the past when drained of the Test squad players. That’s how it feels anyway – haven’t studied the stats.

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