Scotland v Italy - Teams & Predictions
SURVIVAL: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has no doubt, perennial strugglers, Italy should keep their place in the Six Nations Championship ahead of this weekend’s match at Murrayfield.
The Azzurri have lost their last 31 Championship fixtures – a woeful run dating back to a 2015 win over Scotland in Edinburgh.
Italy’s points difference after just four games this year is a miserable -142, and defeat by 10 points or more on Saturday would ensure, statistically, the worst Six Nations campaign recorded by any side.
But former Scotland flyhalf Townsend, who was on the losing side against Italy in their Six Nations debut, knows the Azzurri have not always been this weak and believes better days lie ahead.
“I think they’ve been a fantastic addition to the Championship and have beaten us a few times over the years including in 2000 in their first game,” he said.
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“I believe they are playing some of the most attractive rugby in the tournament.
“Yes, they’ve not won a game yet but they’re playing with ambition.
“They’ve decided to go down the route of bringing young players through now with the goal, I’d imagine, of being more competitive as that team grows, whether that is next year’s Six Nations or heading towards the (2023) World Cup.
“When you see the performances of their Under-20s, then I believe they’ve got a big future.”
Italy coach Franco Smith has made four changes to the side hammered 7-48 by leaders Wales, with 20-year-old centre Federico Mori given his first start.
“We have a big challenge ahead of us,” said Smith.
“We want to win on Saturday, to close the tournament in the best possible way and continuing on the path to becoming more and more competitive.”
Scotland have long believed they would have to play three matches in three weeks and this was confirmed Thursday when last month’s tie against France, postponed by a coronavirus outbreak in the French camp, was rescheduled for March 26.
The prospect of fixture congestion contributed to Townsend making five personnel changes to the side beaten 24-27 by Ireland, although captain Stuart Hogg has moved from fullback to flyhalf against Italy because of Finn Russell’s concussion.
“Hoggy obviously covered 10 last week and has done so in previous games,” said Townsend. “We believe that gives us a better balance to the team.”
Townsend has also handed first starts to scrumhalf Scott Steele and hooker Dave Cherry.
Scotland beat reigning champions England 11-6 in their tournament opener for a first Twickenham triumph against the ‘auld enemy’ since 1983.
But the impact of that success has been dulled by subsequent narrow losses to Wales and Ireland.
“We want to show a truer picture of what the players are capable of and what we’ve been working on in training,” said Townsend.
“We set the bar at a high level in the first game and the first 30 minutes of the second game, but we’ve not been back up there in the remaining time.”
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Players to watch
For Scotland: Captain Stuart Hogg start his first Scotland match at flyhalf, with his fellow halfback Harlequins scrumhalf Scott Steele making his first start for his country. Edinburgh hooker David Cherry makes his first start for Scotland and packs down with club teammate Rory Sutherland and Glasgow Warriors’ returning Zander Fagerson. Sean Maitland of Saracens starts at fullback and is supported in the back three by Edinburgh wings Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe. Huw Jones – who scored off the bench against Ireland – is also one to look out for.
For Italy: Ignacio Brex who holds his place for the fifth consecutive game this campaign, with flyhalf Paolo Garbisi alongside Stephen Varney will be desperate to win. Fullback Edoardo Padovani takes the place of Jacopo Trulla, with 20-year-old centre Federico Mori getting his first start on his ninth game for Italy. Lock Federico Ruzza and prop Marco Riccioni are the other new faces from the side who were hammered 7-48 by Wales in Rome last weekend.
Head to head:
The big battle is certainly at flyhalf. Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, who will start his first Scotland match at flyhalf, will face Paolo Garbisi of Italy. Both players will have to dictate the match, however, it seems like the experienced Hogg has the upper hand. In the pack, th front row of Scotland Zander Fagerson, David Cherry and Rory Sutherland will have their work cut out for them against Marco Riccioni, captain Luca Bigi and Danilo Fischetti.
@rugby365com: Scotland by seven points
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Stuart Hogg (captain), 9 Scott Steele, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 David Cherry, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Nick Haining, 21 Ali Price, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Chris Harris.
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani; 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Federico Mori, 11 Monty Ioane; 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney; 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri; 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Giosue Zilocchi, 19 Riccardo Favretto, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Marco Zanon
Date: Saturday, March 20
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.15 (15.15 Italian time; 14.15 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a high og 12°C and low of 4°C
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England) & Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Alex Ruiz (France)
- Additional reporting by @rugby365com
- Picture credit: @SixNationsRugby