Gregor Townsend has admitted something needed to give with Ben White and that’s why he has decided to rest the scrum half for the trip to Italy on Saturday.

The Toulon star was a surprise absentee when the Scotland team was announced shortly before Townsend and his squad flew out to Rome for the game and there had been no suggestion of injury to him. George Horne starts in his place while the other two changes sees Andy Christie start ahead of Jamie Ritchie and Cam Redpath is in for the injured Sione Tuipulotu.

White has been the mainstay in that role but he’s also had to return to France during the Six Nations and play for Toulon and Townsend feels it was time for a rest for him, but he could return against Ireland next week. The 25-year-old has played regularly since October with only one match missed since then and the Scotland head coach has concerns over using him too much.

He was aware he’d need to do this at some point in the tournament but he’s confident that Horne can show his quality from the start while Price is playing regularly for Edinburgh too and is a good option from the replacements.

Speaking after naming his team, he said: "We feel he needs a week to recharge. He’s still working - he did a session yesterday - but the focus for him is recovery. 

“He’s had a couple of injuries too. He was doubtful for the Wales game with a shoulder that he injured on the Sunday night playing for too long. 

READ MORE: Scotland make three changes to team to face Italy

“There are a lot of challenges for players that are playing during the Six Nations. It was probably a positive that Blair got to play last week, because he’d just come back from injury. Ben having to go back and play high minutes of games - he’s playing high minutes for us too, so we know that we’re asking a lot of him.

“The way he trains too - he puts everything into it, like all our 9s. We would have had a decision to make - it was ‘OK Ben, we feel you need to have a recharge week’, but we also need the team to train together. We don’t have a lot of training sessions.

“So that was the decision we made. And the confidence that we have in the other two. Ali has been a starter for us and for the Lions, George has been excellent off the bench but gets this opportunity to start. So we’d hope next week that all three 9s are fit and available and Ben is in a really good position to have a full training week.” 

Horne has been a regular off the bench for Scotland over the years but has found starts hard to come by and it’s earned him a super sub tag. Townsend doesn’t view it as a negative though and believes it’s a sign of how trusted he is that he comes on in the latter stages of matches which is when test rugby is often decided.

He was an unused replacement against France but did come on against Wales and England and now he’s in from the start having impressed for Glasgow over the last couple of seasons.

Townsend added: “Games at Test level are not won in the first 20 minutes, they are usually won in the last 20 minutes. If you are on the field in the last 20, you can have more influence on the outcome. There are some games George hasn’t come on – he would have been disappointed not to come on against France – but when the Wales game was really tight, we had real confidence George could come on and make things happen which he did, the same against England. Now he gets an opportunity to do it from the start.”

Scotland Rugby News:

Scotland travel to Rome with the Italians having a sell out for the first time since 2016. This has often been a match that Italy have targeted for a chance of a victory in the Six Nations era and they have massively improved their game too over the last few years. They had a disappointing World Cup but they drew with France last time out and were unlucky against Scotland last year.

Townsend is aware that it has always been a big game for the Azzurri but he’s excited to see what his own team has to offer with around 15,000 Scots in attendance at the match too.

“Chatting to the Italian staff over the years, it is the game they have targeted”, he admitted. “I think they used to get a higher win bonus for beating Scotland than other teams.

“I think any Six Nations team will want to deliver the best performance at home. It’s a sell-out and they’ve not had a sell-out for a number of years. It shows the public feel an expectation or a connection with the team and that this could be a game they can win.

“But Italy are a massive threat for any side. Yes, Ireland had a really good win against them [this year] but last year in Rome Ireland were within seven points going into the last five minutes.

“Every team struggled with Italy last year and it’s both sides of the ball. They are really good defensively. They have people that will jackal, they have a back row who are real hard workers but the attacking side is where they’ve grown. The ambition they play with, while it’s slightly less adventurous in their own half this year, it is still a team playing more in the wide channels than any other team we’ll come up against.”

A victory for Scotland could take the championship into the final weekend depending on Ireland’s result against England later on Saturday, but there’s no thoughts being put towards that game for Townsend and his players with full focus remaining on the task in hand in Rome.

He continued: “Absolutely. We’ve never mentioned anything as a team. They’ve not thought about that at all. Being the first game too helps us focus on our job and it’s a tough job.”

Scotland team to play Italy: Blair Kinghorn, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Cam Redpath, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell (cc), George Horne; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Andy Christie, Rory Darge (cc), Jack Dempsey. 

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price, Kyle Rowe