Seven changes for Scotland and Hogg starts at ten

Stuart Hogg will start a Scotland match at fly-half for the first time as part of a new-look side to face Italy in the final round of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.

Stuart Hogg will start a Scotland match at fly-half for the first time as part of a new-look side to face Italy in the final round of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.

All 82 of the captain’s previous starts for his country have come at full-back but with Finn Russell missing out due to a head injury, Hogg is handed the No.10 jersey for the visit of the Azzurri.

There are other major changes to the side that lost 27-24 to Ireland in Round 4, with Gregor Townsend opting for seven alterations to his starting XV.

Hogg’s shift to fly-half sees Sean Maitland move to full-back and Darcy Graham come in on the wing, while Huw Jones’s try-scoring performance off the bench last week is rewarded with a start at outside centre as Chris Harris drops out.

Scott Steele earns his first Scotland start at scrum-half, with Ali Price dropping to the bench, and there’s an all-new pairing in the second row as Sam Skinner and Grant Gilchrist start in place of injured duo Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings.

The final two changes are in the front row as Edinburgh hooker David Cherry makes his first start for Scotland and Zander Fagerson returns at tighthead prop.

Jaco van der Walt will provide No.10 cover for Hogg on the bench, where he will win his second cap if called upon, and Gloucester lock Alex Craig is in line for his international debut from the replacements.

After an historic victory at Twickenham in Round 1, Scotland have suffered frustrating losses to Wales and Ireland and Townsend wants to see the new-look side lay down a marker at BT Murrayfield on Super Saturday as the Azzurri come to town.

“Saturday is an opportunity for us to show an improved performance and a much truer reflection of who we are as a team,” said Townsend. “It’s also an opportunity for a number of players in their first start of the Championship.

“How we perform physically this weekend is going to be very important, both in terms of the energy and effort that is demanded from you each time you represent Scotland, and also our impacts in every contact.

“Whenever we play Italy, the contact area is fiercely contested and I’m sure this game will be no different.

“Italy have been playing ambitious rugby and have performed better away from home in this year’s Championship, causing both England and France a number of problems.

“We expect them to produce their best rugby of the season against us, so we are focused on delivering a full 80-minute performance at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.”

Scotland team to play Italy in Round 5 of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations 15. Sean Maitland (Saracens) – 52 caps 14. Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) – 17 caps 13. Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) – 29 caps 12. Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) – 16 caps 11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh) – 8 caps 10. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) – 83 caps – captain 9. Scott Steele (Harlequins) – 3 caps 1. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh) – 14 caps 2. David Cherry (Edinburgh) 3 caps 3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 36 caps 4. Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) – 10 caps 5. Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) – 43 caps 6. Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh) – 25 caps 7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) – 39 caps 8. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) – 12 caps

Replacements: 16. George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) – 15 caps 17. Jamie Bhatti (Bath Rugby) – 17 caps 18. Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) – 29 caps 19. Alex Craig (Gloucester) – Uncapped 20. Nick Haining (Edinburgh) – 6 caps 21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) – 40 caps 22. Jaco van der Walt (Edinburgh) – 1 cap 23. Chris Harris (Gloucester) – 26 caps