Nine changes as Townsend starts new Scotland era
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: New Scotland coach Gregor Townsend made nine changes to the team for their opening match of the June series.
Scotland face Italy at the National Stadium in Singapore on Saturday.
The starting side features nine changes (six forwards, three backs) to that which defeated the Azzurri 29-0 in the final match of the Six Nations, two of which replace the three absentees - Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour - currently on duty with the British & Irish Lions.
Seymour and Hogg's places are taken by Damien Hoyland (wing) and Duncan Taylor (fullback), with the latter making a welcome return to the national team for the first time since last year's summer tour to Japan.
Hoyland and Seymour are joined by Tim Visser, the only back-three player in the 34-man squad to have started a test in the recent Six Nations.
Centre Matt Scott - a replacement against Italy in March - makes his first start for Scotland since Japan alongside Alex Dunbar. They are joined in the backline by returning Glasgow Warriors halfbacks Finn Russell (flyhalf) and Ali Price (scrumhalf).
Edinburgh prop Allan Dell and Willem Nel are two of six changes to the forwards - the latter making a welcome return after damaging an intervertebral disc in January - to pack down with fellow capital club man Ross Ford.
A new lock partnership also takes to the field, with Tim Swinson and Ben Toolis linking up in the boiler-house for the first time.
The pack is completed by the return of Josh Strauss and John Hardie from injuries sustained in the recent Six Nations to partner captain John Barclay in the loose forwards.
Finally, Townsend has opted for a six-two split on the bench in joint acknowledgement of the anticipated, combative nature of match and the ability of the starting and replacement backs to cover several positions.
"We've really enjoyed our time in Singapore and have worked hard early in the week to get over the travel and get used to the climate," Townsend, said.
"We've a great support team who have provided the advice that we needed to get over the travel as quickly as possible and our players are very professional in their application of these protocols, looking after themselves, taking on a lot of water and getting in the pool after sessions so that we're in a good place going into the rest of this week.
"A lot of work was also done before we got here. We had three good weeks in camp before we arrived where we covered general rugby principles more specific organisation, as well as getting back up to match speed and intensity.
"Italy were developing their game into one that has them playing at pace and you could see that building throughout the Six Nations.
"They moved the ball and played some really good rugby although we expect they will still look to their strengths, which is undoubtedly their physicality that comes through their set-piece, an excellent line-out maul and a number of strong, quality ball carriers in the backline."
Looking to the selection, Townsend's first since being appointed coach, he added: "Throughout the team we have people getting their first opportunities for a while. It is pleasing to be able to include a few players that have recovered from injury and have worked hard to be available.
"We're delighted o see WP Nel back fit for Scotland and full of confidence after playing a game for the Barbarians a couple of weeks back.
"Ben Toolis hasn't been involved in a while and has earned the chance to start in the second-row, while Josh [Strauss] is back fit and raring to go. "Similarly John Hardie has made a full recovery and played very well at the end of the season for Edinburgh.
"With two back-three players with the British & Irish Lions, Damien Hoyland gets a chance to start with Duncan Taylor who came back from injury for Saracens towards the end of the season. His experience and communication will be a real strength for the team on the weekend."
Scotland: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Ryan Wilson, 22 Henry Pyrgos, 23 Pete Horne.
Date: Saturday, June 10
Venue: National Stadium, Singapore
Kick-off: 20.00 (13.00 BST; 12.00 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Tim Baker (Hong Kong)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)