All the big team news, key issues and TV details you need for the Six Nations match between Scotland and Italy
Six Nations Scotland v Italy Preview
It’s a case of screaming “Everyone remain calm!” while fires are extinguished, 5G masts are erected again and politicians are allowed out of their underground bunkers. Stuart Hogg is starting at fly-half for Scotland.
In October against Wales, Hogg had to slot in at ten for a stint and after the game he reportedly joked that he would prefer to stay at 15. At the team unveiling for this Italy encounter, his coach Gregor Townsend said with a smile: “He said he was misquoted! He said to me the next day that wasn’t what he meant…”
For some sage fans who have been calling for this for a while, convinced that fly-half is truly Hogg’s best position and that he has been held back for years, it’s time to see if the tin foil cap fits. For the rest of us, it’s time to see if Scotland can click again, just like they did against England and in spells against Wales. Because against Ireland last week, there was a lot of spluttering and hoping chaos could win the match for them.
How Italy would love some chaos. It has been all too predictable for them these Six Nations: turn up, relent to the opposition, traipse home. Loss after loss. For every punch of fine attacking intent, for every plunging run from Monty Ioane, their defence has had all the integrity of loose custard. Their points difference in this tournament currently stands at -142.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Through injuries, falling form, and Townsend’s inherent need to see if the selection grass is greener, Scotland are sporting some jazzy new combinations. Up front that means some practical changes. Against the Irish, Scotland’s lineout functioned like a local council before the bailiffs arrived. They lost six of their own throws.
The hope is that new front-liner Dave Cherry will be far less wasteful than last week’s starters as he throws at incoming locks Sam Skinner and Grant Gilchrist. Italy will have seen how Ireland took to the collisions, too.
Out the back, though, it’s attacking intent for the Scots. It’s wild to say out loud, but if you count Scott Steele’s time on the wing on his debut against Wales, plus Huw Jones’s time at full-back for Glasgow, and Hogg starting here at ten, it’s a backline of back-three players. The hope is that with front-foot ball, Scotland will sprint through Italian turnstiles.
Italy cannot be so charitable. They mustn’t be. They have an horrific run of defeats in this competition (31 and counting) to end. And all the talk of rebuilding and starting again must at least show something for all the obvious endeavour of the players. Having more experience with Edo Padovani at full-back could help. Having their new centre-axis could change the picture again further.
Maybe an intercept try, for old time’s sake? A classic chaotic game between these two should always have one of those…
What’s the big team news?
Gregor Townsend has made seven personnel changes to Scotland’s starting XV for their Six Nations match against Italy.
Finn Russell is ruled out following a brain injury against Ireland, so captain Hogg moves to fly-half with Sean Maitland starting at full-back.
Darcy Graham starts on the wing while outside centre Huw Jones comes in for Chris Harris and Scott Steele is picked ahead of Ali Price at scrum-half.
In the forwards, hooker Dave Cherry gets his first start of the Six Nations, prop Zander Fagerson returns from his lengthy ban and locks Sam Skinner and Grant Gilchrist come in for Scott Cummings and Jonny Gray because of injury.
Italy have made four changes. In the backs, Edo Padovani starts at full-back with the green Jacopo Trulla gone, while Federico Mori comes in at 13 for Carlo Canna, to partner the industrious Juan Ignacio Brex.
Up front, prop Marco Riccioni returns to the starting XV, replacing Giosuè Zilocchi, and Federico Ruzza starts at lock with David Sisi out.
What have the coaches said?
Gregor Townsend said of Stuart Hogg’s move to ten: “We’re keen to see him play there if he’s going to be, at times, a reserve ten in our squad.
“Full-back is his position but given his experience, leadership ability and all-round skillset we do see him as being able to cover other positions and this is an opportunity for him to do that.”
Italy head coach Franco Smith said: “We have a big challenge ahead of us. Our work during the week was excellent. We want to win on Saturday, closing the Championship in the best possible way and continuing on the path of becoming more and more competitive.”
What are the odds?
Scotland are overwhelming favourites, with odds of 1-66 on Bet365. Italy are rated at 16-1 and a draw comes in at 66-1.
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Any interesting statistics?
- Italy have now lost 31 Six Nations matches in a row.
- Scotland lost six lineouts against Ireland.
- Italy’s last win in this competition – against Scotland in 2015 – came courtesy a late penalty try.
- Scotland have a tackle success rate of 92% in the 2021 Six Nations – the best of any side in the competition.
- Italy have not missed a single penalty kick yet in the 2021 Six Nations – Scotland have missed three.
- Hamish Watson is yet to miss a tackle in these Six Nations (he has made 44 tackles).
- Italy currently have a points difference in the Six Nations table of -142. Scotland’s is +1.
- The last time these two met in the Six Nations at Murrayfield, the attendance was 67,144.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Scotland vs Italy, Saturday 20 March, Murrayfield.
The match kicks off at 2.155pm and will be shown on BBC One in the UK and in Ireland on Virgin Media One. You can listen to coverage on BBC Radio Scotland.
Pascal Gaüzère (France) is the match referee, and he will be assisted by Karl Dickson (England) and Ben Whitehouse (Wales), while Alex Ruiz (France) the TMO.
What are the line-ups?
Scotland: Sean Maitland; Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Stuart Hogg (captain), Scott Steele; Rory Sutherland, David Cherry, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Ali Price, Jaco van der Walt, Chris Harris.
Italy: Edoardo Padovani; Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Federico Mori, Monty Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (captain), Marco Riccioni, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer, Michele Lamaro.
Replacements: Gianmarco Lucchesi, Andrea Lovotti, Giosuè Zilocchi, Riccardo Favretto, Maxime Mbanda, Marcello Violi, Carlo Canna, Marco Zanon.
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