Townsend reflects on Scotland selection
Head Coach Gregor Townsend named three uncapped players in Scotland's match-day 23 to face Italy at BT Murrayfield Stadium this Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm) – live on BBC.
Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson will make his debut at inside-centre, while Leicester Tigers hooker Jake Kerr and Newcastle Falcons back-row Gary Graham await their opportunity on the bench
Townsend said: “Sam [Johnson] has got better every season, once he got more used to the demands of professional rugby.
“He hadn’t played that much rugby prior to coming over to Scotland but each time he’s been given an opportunity to play at a higher level he’s done really well.
“He had an excellent season last year and, although he’s been unlucky with injuries this year, he’s timed his return to playing well and has manged to get some game time before the championship.
“He’s a very good defender, is someone who communicates well in attack and has a passing ability to put others in space.”
Notable among selection is the all-Edinburgh tight-five, with locks Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist packing down behind hooker Stuart McInally and props Allan Dell and Willem Nel.
Townsend added: “Cohesion was important for us in the selection of our pack and once we knew Jonny was going to be a doubt for the game then the Edinburgh front-five became the best solution.
“They’ve been playing very well as individuals, they know each other well from working together at the club week in, week out – and that cohesion can often be an important factor at Test level.
“The back-row balance was something that we thought long and hard about, with some players who have just missed out. Jamie [Ritchie] goes to seven – which worked really well in the Fiji game – and as a player in excellent form was always going to be in the team.
“Sam [Skinner] has also been in excellent form for Exeter Chiefs and was pushing hard for place to start in the second-row.
“We’re fortunate that he has played at flanker for his club a number of times in recent weeks, and we like the balance he gives us to the backrow where we have three really good rugby players who are all comfortable on the ball as well as being strong lineout options.”
Townsend also paid tribute to potental debutants Kerr and Graham.
He added: “Jake [Kerr] has been consistent and has probably had the advantage of playing regularly over the past two months. Between the three uncapped hookers in the squad, Jake and Grant [Stewart] have played the most rugby this season but Grant unfortunately has been hampered by a shoulder injury and didn’t train much with us last week.
“Jake has also adapted to our environment really well with us and has earned his place in the squad. He’s a hard worker, very solid around the lineout and, given the type of game we could be playing, those factors could be very important.
“It’ll be a very proud moment for Gary [Graham], just it will be for Jake and Sam. I played with both Gary and Jake’s dads and I know they’ll be especially proud having played at a high level themselves. Gary has worked really hard in both training camps he’s been involved with us.
“He’s taken on information and feedback and we’ve seen him transfer that into more positive involvements in attack and defence. He has an outstanding workrate and takes the game to the opposition both in defence and ball carrying.”