What the four team changes mean for Scotland’s Autumn Nations Cup match in Italy

Scotland kick off their Autumn Nations Cup campaign against Italy at Stadio Artemio Franchi on Saturday. Coach Gregor Townsend has made four changes to his team following the Six Nations win over Wales in Llanelli last month. So how will the incoming players impact on the match in Florence?

Sam Johnson has been picked to play at inside centre against Italy ahead of James Lang.
Sam Johnson has been picked to play at inside centre against Italy ahead of James Lang.

Duncan Weir for Finn Russell

This has been the major talking point ahead of the Italy game. Weir has not started a match for Scotland since the Six Nations defeat against Ireland in Dublin in March 2016. He comes in from the cold after Russell and fellow stand-off Adam Hastings suffered injuries against Wales which will cause them both to miss the entire Autumn Nations Cup campaign.

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Weir is seen as a more cautious fly-half than Russell but has an excellent kicking game which will be important in Florence. His chances have been limited since Russell burst onto the scene but Weir is playing the best rugby of his career according to Townsend. “He’s in his late 20s, playing in a position where you learn throughout your career. For instance, what different pictures you see in defence and what skills he has picked up on over the years.”

Duhan van der Merwe for Blair Kinghorn

One Edinburgh player replaces another on the wing, with the muscular van der Merwe picked to win his second Scotland cap. He made a try-scoring debut against Georgia last month but Kinghorn also touched down that night and can consider himself unlucky to be dropped to the bench.

Both players offer a potent attacking threat and are likely to be used evenly over the course of a Nations Cup campaign which will see Scotland play four Test matches across four consecutive weekends. Kinghorn’s versatility means he is also an option at full-back.

Sam Johnson for James Lang

The Glasgow centre will have his first international outing of the autumn after impressing for Warriors. It means that Harlequins man Lang drops to the bench after starting against Georgia and Wales. Johnson has scored three tries in 13 starts for Scotland and was part of the side which won in Rome in the Six Nations in February. Lang has yet to get off the mark in his four appearances.

Australian-born Johnson made his Scotland debut in the 33-20 win over Italy in the 2019 Six Nations at BT Murrayfield.

Stuart McInally for Fraser Brown

Hooker McInally was the hero of the win in Llanelli, scoring the second-half try from a driving maul that put Scotland in the ascendancy. He also impressed with his lineout throws in difficult conditions at Parc y Scarlets. He replaces Fraser Brown who suffered a head injury in training when a scrum collapsed.

Townsend said: “Stuart was always going to get an opportunity to start this weekend anyway. He’s been training really well and the scrummaging side of his game has really improved.”

The experienced McInally will share vice-captaincy duties in Italy with blindside flanker Jamie Richie. Full-back Stuart Hogg will captain the side.

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