Scotland v Italy - teams and prediction
PREVIEW – ROUND FIVE: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has backed his side to flourish without key backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.
Scotland faces Italy in their Six Nations finale at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Both flyhalf Russell and fullback Hogg are missing as a result of injuries suffered late on during last week’s 7-22 loss to Grand Slam-chasing Ireland in Edinburgh.
Blair Kinghorn, who had several consecutive starts in the Scotland No.10 shirt last year, replaced Russell and Ollie Smith will come in for Hogg, as happened during one of the 2022 Tests away to Argentina.
Both Russell and Hogg are hugely influential figures in Scotland’s attack.
Russell was a central figure in their opening wins over England and Wales this Six Nations, while Hogg picked up his 100th cap against Ireland.
“We had a similar situation in the summer, when players stepped up in attacking roles, but also stepped up in general play and in terms of our defence,” said Townsend when asked if his reshaped back division could cope.
He added: “So, we’ve got that experience when going up against a top team (without Russell and Hogg), and that’s what we’re going up against this week in Italy.”
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Kinghorn’s club position
There had been speculation that 26-year-old Kinghorn, a replacement fullback in recent matches, would start at No.15 against Italy.
But Townsend has opted to deploy him at flyhalf instead, with Smith at fullback.
“We see Blair as a No.10 who can play a number of positions,” said Townsend as he explained his thinking in fielding the Edinburgh man at flyhalf.
“It’s his club position, I know he’s had to play in the back three because of injury at Edinburgh but he’s played there (fly-half) for the last two seasons.
“He played there for us in last year’s Six Nations, three Tests in mid-year and was involved in two Tests in the year-end series, one he started and one he came off the bench. He’s trained a lot at No.10.”
Victory on Saturday would likely seal third place in the Six Nations for Scotland after their opening wins were followed by losses to France and Ireland.
Italy has lost all four of their Six Nations matches so far this season, but Townsend insisted the Azzurri could still cause Scotland problems.
“They beat Australia in November and they beat Wales away last year,” he said.
“They are growing and the way they play puts teams under pressure because they attack from everywhere.”
Players to watch
For Scotland: The loss of key backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg could be more disruptive that coach Gregor Townsend would admit. However, in Blair Kinghorn, at flyhalf, and Ollie Smith (fullback) he has some very able replacements. Up front, Townsend has had to make another change to his XV, with Edinburgh lock Sam Skinner replacing Richie Gray, who suffered rib damage against Ireland. Townsend has brought in Edinburgh flank Hamish Watson at the expense of Matt Fagerson, now among the replacements, in the only unforced alteration to the run-on side. Uncapped Munster flyhalf Ben Healy could make his Scotland debut off the bench.
For Italy: Wing Simone Gesi and replacement hooker Marco Manfredi are both set for their Azzurri debuts. Alessandro Fusco makes his first Championship start at scrumhalf, while Edoardo Iachizzi (at lock) and Marco Riccioni (prop) also return.
Head to head
Scotland has won each of their last seven Six Nations matches against Italy, their longest winning run against any nation in the Championship. However, their most recent loss against the Azzurri came at Murrayfield (19-22 in 2015).
Italy has won seven of their previous 23 Six Nations matches against Scotland, more than they’ve won against every other side in the Championship combined.
@rugby365com: Scotland by 14 points
Scotland: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath.
Italy: 15 Tommaso Allan, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Edoardo Iachizzi, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Luca Morisi.
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 12.30 (13.30 Italian time; 12.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Light rain and a gentle breeze. High of 12°C and a low of 4°C
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)