Rob Harley's near robotic capacity to perform as he has been programmed to do has earned him a first start for Scotland and a first inter-national appearance on home soil against Italy on Saturday.

The Glasgow Warriors flanker won his only previous Test cap in Samoa last summer, when he came off the bench to score the match-winning try. However, after naming him in the starting XV in place of Al Strokosch, who saw a specialist yesterday after damaging a cheekbone, Scott Johnson, the team's caretaker coach, paid tribute to the way the 22-year-old flanker responds to what is required.

"I've been really, really surprised with Rob Harley's ability to do the seven role at Glasgow," he said, referring to his recent performances as an emergency openside flanker, having previously been regarded as either a blindside flanker or a lock. "He's been abrasive at times. He's run good lines for a guy that's not natural at that position. He was a surprise packet. When we spoke about him at Glasgow initially we thought he was a six/four but he's shown great willingness and great desire and has performed terrific there."

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Johnson admitted Harley had been close to inclusion for the Calcutta Cup match last weekend and, having travelled the world as a member of Scotland squads without making the Test 23, the player was ecstatic the wait is over.

"The feeling was just elation," said Harley. "It was unbelievable being told I was getting a start and then the nerves kicked in. Playing for Scotland at Murrayfield is what you picture when you are young. Growing up at West of Scotland you do imagine yourself running out at Murrayfield."

In the only other change to the side, Ross Ford, the 2009 British & Irish Lions tourist, replaces Dougie Hall, who will sit on the bench if he recovers from the knee injury that resulted in him leaving the field early during Saturday's 38-18 defeat at Twickenham.

However, for all that he did not want to phrase it as a threat, Johnson seemed to indicate that there will be consequences should Scotland suffer another defeat and still be at the foot of the table at the end of this weekend. "We had a plan to go a couple of weeks unless it was something outrageous and we knew we'd get some enforced changes with injuries, and that's occurred.

"We're trying to get some consistency because you don't get a lot of time after the first game. So we're trying to get consistency of training and calls and we'll have a good look at it after the weekend."