To blood the new or stick with the old? An opening fixture against Italy offers a rare opportunity to ask this question, and the answer, for Gregor Townsend at least, seems to be “stick em in there and see what happens”.
The result is that centre Sam Johnson will start for his first cap, while Newcastle’s Gary Graham and Leicester’s former Scotland U20 hooker Jake Kerr could make debuts from the bench.
In the backline Townsend has gone with most of the players you would expect to be cornerstones of the coming season: Hoggy, Huw Jones, Finn, Greig and so on. Johnson and Sean Maitland aside, that’s our first choice backline although Darcy Graham is pushing hard to be part of the conversation. It’s a settled unit at this point and that is a GOOD thing.
The pack is a little more interesting, where he’s picked as much of the Edinburgh team as possible. That means that Sam Skinner at 6 is less of a surprise than the total absence of Jonny Gray in the 23, with double back-row cover on the bench instead.
With any luck a strong XV like this should be able to see off Italy, but looking at the bench there is work to be done to match the quality of Ireland’s replacements next week… Gray, Pete Horne and possibly Maitland all still have injuries to recover from but could play a part.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Jake Kerr, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Gary Graham, Josh Strauss, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris.
BT Murrayfield, 2nd Feb 2019 (live on BBC)
Squad players unavailable through injury: Jonny Gray (shoulder), George Horne (shoulder), Pete Horne (shoulder), Lee Jones (knee), Sean Maitland (hamstring), Grant Stewart (shoulder).
The Italy team will be announced shortly and feature in Part II of Kevin’s preview tomorrow.