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Six Nations: Scotland make five changes for clash against Italy

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend rings changes for Scotland's Six Nations match against Italy. Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images

Scotland's Matt Fagerson and Hamish Watson have returned to beef up the back row against Italy in the Six Nations in Rome on Saturday as coach Gregor Townsend makes five changes to the team beaten by France a fortnight ago.

Fagerson returns from injury while Watson missed out on the 36-17 rout by the French at Murrayfield after testing positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the test.

Townsend on Thursday also restored Sam Johnson to the lineup following his start at centre in the victory over England in Scotland's opening game of this year's Six Nations. They have since lost to Wales as well as France.

A suspension handed to Duhan van der Merwe after he was sent off playing for Worcester Warriors means Kyle Steyn earns a first Six Nations start. The Glasgow Warriors winger scored four tries in last November's test win over Tonga.

Van der Merwe will miss the remainder of the Six Nations Championship after he was handed a three-week ban for his dismissal in Worcester's Premiership defeat at London Irish on Saturday.

In the front row, George Turner has been brought into the starting team, while among the replacements Ben Vellacott is in line to make his debut. The scrum-half has been capped for Scotland under-20s.

The 22-year-old Rory Darge switches from openside flanker to the blindside after his impressive performance against France in his first start for Scotland.

Meanwhile, Italy have made two changes with Benetton scrum-half Callum Braley set for his first start since the win over Uruguay in November.

Giacomo Nicotera has also been handed an international debut, replacing injured hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi and backup Hame Faiva, who was banned for four weeks for a high tackle against Ireland.

Italy lost a 35th straight game in the championship last month when it was hammered 57-6 by Ireland in a match that saw the Azzurri finish with 12 men.

Kieran Crowley's side is bottom of the table, five points below Scotland and Wales.

"We face a team that has shown its worth in previous outings of the tournament," Crowley said. "We have the opportunity to play in front of our fans: we want to turn the page and react on the pitch with an important performance,"

Scotland XV:

Stuart Hogg (captain), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Kyle Steyn, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Rory Darge, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Pierre Schoeman.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Jamie Hodgson, Magnus Bradbury, Ben Vellacott, Adam Hastings, Sione Tuipulotu.

Italy XV:

Edoardo Padovani, Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Leonardo Marin, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Callum Braley; Toa Halafihi, Michele Lamaro (captain), Giovanni Pettinelli, Federico Ruzza, Niccolo Cannone, Pietro Ceccarelli, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fischetti.

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Ivan Nemer, Giosue Zilocchi, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Marco Zanon, Ange Capuozzo.

Information from Associated Press was included in this report.