Six Nations 2019: Scotland hand Sam Johnson debut v Italy

Sam Johnson carries the ball for Glasgow
Sam Johnson has been in consistently good form for Glasgow over the past two seasons
Six Nations: Scotland v Italy
Venue: Murrayfield Date: Saturday, 2 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC television & online; listen on Radio Scotland; follow live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

Glasgow centre Sam Johnson will make his Scotland debut in their Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday.

The Australia-born midfielder, 25, who qualified via residency last summer, was named in the autumn squad but a knee injury delayed his Test entrance.

Newcastle flanker Gary Graham and Leicester hooker Jake Kerr could also make their debuts off the bench.

Blair Kinghorn starts at left wing, Sam Skinner at blind-side and Ben Toolis at lock in an all-Edinburgh front five.

Tommy Seymour takes over from Sean Maitland - who has failed to recover sufficiently from a hamstring injury sustained playing for Saracens, but should be fit to face Ireland in Scotland's second match - on the right wing.

Hooker Fraser Brown, lock Jonny Gray and flanker Hamish Watson are among those missing through injury.

Ryan Wilson returns at number eight, with Josh Strauss on the bench. Jamie Ritchie will make his Six Nations debut at open-side flanker, where he started one Test in the autumn, but has been in "outstanding" form at blind-side for Edinburgh in recent months.

Finn Russell reverts to fly-half, having finished the autumn series at inside centre, with Adam Hastings among the replacements.

Johnson, whose parents are flying from over from Australia to watch his Test debut, arrived at Glasgow in the summer of 2015 after two Super Rugby appearances for Queensland Reds, and was voted player of the year by his Warriors team-mates last season.

"He worked his way into the Glasgow team and then became one of the best players in the Glasgow team," said head coach Gregor Townsend. "He has settled in Scotland and feels very much part of our country."

Graham, the son of former Scotland prop George, was in England's Six Nations training squad a year ago before switching his allegiance back to his native country.

With Skinner - who made his Test debut at lock in the autumn - starting at blind-side, Graham, 26, is included as one of two back-row options on the bench.

"Gary is tough, has got an incredible engine, and can cover six and seven," Townsend said. "He takes the game to the opposition, whether in attack or defence."

Although Brown is close to a comeback, George Turner is still sidelined, so Edinburgh-born Kerr has won the race among three uncapped hookers to provide back-up to first-choice Stuart McInally, who returns to the starting XV.

Kerr, 22, is the older brother of Scottish 1500m runner Josh Kerr, the European junior champion.

"Jake is very fit, very mobile, and a really good defender," Townsend added. "He is also solid at throwing in and that got him the edge over the other two, who haven't played as much rugby."

Graphic of Scotland's Six Nations fixtures

'We have to grasp opportunity'

Scotland have won their last six meetings with Italy, whose last victory in the Six Nations came at Murrayfield in 2015 - one of seven occasions they have beaten the Scots in the championship.

"Italy have made life tough for Scotland in every Test match we've played," noted Townsend.

"They will see it as a huge opportunity to start the tournament on a high and carry on the way they played against us in Rome last year.

"Every team wants to start by playing their best and getting a win. The Six Nations is about momentum, and you get that through performances and results.

"We have a platform playing at home, and then not having to travel next week. We have to really grasp that opportunity"

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Relive Scotland's dramatic Six Nations win in Rome last year

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne - captain); Allan Dell (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).

Replacements: Jake Kerr (Leicester Tigers), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Gary Graham (Newcastle), Josh Strauss (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Chris Harris (Newcastle).

Italy: Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Castello, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, David Sisi, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse (capt).

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Guglielmo Palazzani, Ian McKinley, Edoardo Padovani.

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