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Richie Gray set for recall but Denton place at risk

Richie Gray, the BriTish and Irish Lions Test lock who was controversially left out of the Scotland squad for the Calcutta Cup match with England 10 days ago, looks set to return to the national side's starting lineup for the RBS 6 Nations MATCH with Italy in Rome on Saturday.

Richie and little brother Jonny find time to chat after a Scotland training session. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
Richie and little brother Jonny find time to chat after a Scotland training session. Picture: SNS Group/SRU

Herald Sport understands that Gray is one of three changes to the side that came in for heavy criticism after losing 20-0 to Stuart Lancaster's team at Murrayfield - the first time a Scotland team had failed to score a point against the Auld Enemy for 36 years.

Acting head coach Scott Johnson has resisted making wholesale changes but has - as he indicated he might last week - "tinkered" with the selection.

Gray, the only Scot to figure in a full Lions Test against Australia last year, has been tipped to take the place of Tim Swinson in the Scotland second row for the match in the Stadio Olimpico.

Swinson is expected to be given a place on the bench; ironically, it is Gray's younger brother Jonny who is likely to drop out of the match squad to allow that change.

Surprisingly, Dave Denton, who was hailed as Scotland's best forward before his mystifyingly early substitution against England, is in danger of losing his place in the starting line-up altogether.

Montpellier No.8 Johnnie Beattie set to take the Edinburgh forward's place in the back row.

It is understood there is still no place for flanker Kelly Brown, who captained the side in the opening match against Ireland in Dublin, but then dropped out of the squad for the next game.

Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford is believed to be the third change, being moved to the bench to make way for Scott Lawson, of Newcastle Falcons.

Johnson has been dealt a late injury worry with scrum-half Chris Cusiter reporting to this week's training camp with a calf muscle problem. As a result, Grayson Hart, the New Zealand-born Edinburgh scrum half, was invited to the training session, joining Jack Cuthbert, his back-three clubmate, who was added to the national squad.

Cusiter will go for a scan on the damaged muscle today, though team doctor James Robson emphasised that it was precautionary rather than a serious concern.

It's unclear exactly why Cuthbert - who was capped in the 2011 Rugby World Cup warm-up campaign - has been brought in since there is no suggestion that any of the current back three are injured.

At 6ft 5ins and almost 16 stone he does bring impressive power to the defence and is the strongest of the current squad under the high ball. He could be a useful bench option if the game turns into a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort.

Cusiter has been on the bench throughout this RBS 6 Nations campaign.

However, assuming he passes his fitness test, the way he lifted the tempo of Glasgow's match against Cardiff last weekend and helped mastermind the come-from-behind win must have put pressure on Greig Laidlaw.

Hart made his Scotland representative debut earlier this month when Scotland A drew 16-16 with England Saxons, but has found his opportunities restricted because he has been in competition with Laidlaw, the club, and now international, captain.

Born in New Zealand - he is the nephew of John Hart, the former All Black coach - he was playing in Sydney before he was came north after Cusiter had forged the link while playing in Australia to get fit for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Hart is in good company as one of Edinburgh's imports, with the club adding three more when they announced that Allan Dell and Simon Berghan, both props, and Nick McLennan, a utility outside back, have all been signed from the Southern Hemisphere.

This brings to 14 the number of imports since August last year, plus two more on development deals.

The only domestic player brought in on contract in the same period is Damien Hoyland, the Under 20s and Melrose wing.

The latest three do at least have Scottish ancestry - grandparents in each case - and in theory Dell, who should arrive from South Africa in the next few weeks, could play his way on to the summer tour.

Berghan and McLennan do not arrive until the summer and will become available only next season.

Dell is a prop who can play on either side of the scrum and was part of South Africa's Junior World Cup-winning Under-20 side in 2012. He has a two-year deal.

Berghan, another prop, who says he prefers the tighthead side where Euan Murray's injury has exposed Scotland's lack of depth, is from Christchurch in New Zealand and has a one-year deal.

McLennan, from Otago who has played provincial rugby for Hawkes Bay, can play fly-half, centre and full back and is on a two-year deal.

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