PREVIEW: Italy v Scotland
SIX NATIONS PREVIEW: Finn Russell believes Scotland can already claim to be a genuine force despite their poor away record as they look to ditch their tag as rugby's nearly men.
Gregor Townsend's team head to Rome for their final Six Nations match on Saturday after their slim title hopes were wiped out by a 8-28 defeat at the hands of Ireland in Dublin.
The team have not won a championship clash away from home for two years but Glasgow flyhalf Russell says Scotland are heading in the right direction following their emphatic victory over Australia in November and their first win against England in a decade.
If they beat Italy in Rome, Scotland will record three wins out of five matches for the second year running, a feat last achieved back in 1996 which, for Russell, would be proof that they are no longer also-rans.
"In my first Six Nations I don't think we won a game and that was four years ago," said the 25-year-old, who joins Racing 92 next season.
"We are building. The 'nearly men' tag isn't the kind of name we want to have and we are definitely working to change that.
"Against Ireland we worked very hard to put the second-best team in the world under a lot of pressure, we put New Zealand under pressure in the autumn [November], so it shows that on our day we can be there against the best."
He added: "It has been a decent competition for us, although there are a lot of things we can look back on and we could have worked on in the Wales and Ireland games and it could have potentially have been different. It has been a successful competition for us."
Italy are mired in another tortuous campaign that has seen them ship 23 tries and record four straight defeats.
But Russell said results do not give a true reflection of their growth under Conor O'Shea.
"They have a lot of danger in attack, a lot of flair, in attack and defence they are solid so we need to stick to our game plan, what we know, and hopefully that will take care of itself," he said.
Players to watch:
For Italy: Sergio Parisse always has a spotlight on him when Italy plays and it will be no different on Saturday. Lock Dean Budd is a big physical player up front while Giulio Bisegni is a threat with ball in hand in the backline.
For Scotland: Stuart Hogg has been one of the best performers in this year's Six Nations and Italy can't afford to give him too much space. Huw Jones has been outstanding in the midfield and he is proving to be a consistent try-scorer for the Scots. Flank Hamish Watson was a menace at the breakdowns against Ireland and he will give Italy plenty of problems in that area.
Head to head: The battle between the two packs should be worth the ticket alone. However, there are plenty of talented backline players on display as well. Both Italy and Scotland are not afraid to throw the ball around and it will be interesting to see if Scotland's back three dominates out wide.
2017: Scotland won 34-13, Singapore
2017: Scotland won 29-0 Edinburgh
2016: Scotland won 36-20, Rome
2015: Scotland won 48-7, Edinburgh
2015: Scotland won 16-12, Torino
2015: Italy won 22-19, Edinburgh
2014: Scotland won 21-20, Rome
2013: Scotland won 30-29, Pretoria
2013: Scotland won 34-10, Edinburgh
2012: Italy won 13-6 Rome
Prediction: Italy are under pressure to get a win and they will be fired up in front of their fans. However, Scotland know that they can't afford to lose in Rome if they are to be taken seriously as a world power. Scotland will win by 10 points or more.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziani Pasquali, 19 Abraham Steyn, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Nick Grigg, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Richie Gray, 20 David Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 13.30 (12.30, 12.30 UK time)
Expected weather: There will be light rain and it will be breezy. There will be a high of 14 and a low of 7.
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Agence France-Presse @rugby365com