Scotland will have a point to prove when they host Italy in Edinburgh on Saturday after their disappointing exit from Six Nations contention.
Vern Cotter’s men will be reeling after their Six Nations hopes were snuffed out by a massive 61-21 loss to England last weekend where they conceded a demoralising eight tries.
Scotland looked as though they were heading for a fairy-tale ending to the European premier competition after beating Ireland 27-22 in the first round and then Wales in third after a 29-13 victory at Murrayfield.
So the extent of the loss to England would have added insult to injury. This will also be Cotter’s last game in charge of the side which will add extra gravity to their desire for a big win.
Cotter has turned his side from a predominantly forward orientated side playing negative rugby to a dynamic, exciting team for their spectators to enjoy.
After dismantling old foes like Wales and Ireland, beating Argentina and pushing Australia close at the end of last year, the Scotland rugby public will be sad to see him go.
Italy will be desperate for a win themselves after a poor showing in the Six Nations in 2017. Out of their four games Italy have failed to pick up even a single losing bonus point after being thrashed by their opponents week after week.
Their closest game was against England where they lost 36-15 and were ahead at half-time and still managed to concede five tries. There is no way Italy can avoid the wooden spoon in this game and will be playing for their pride more than anything else.
History is on Scotland’s side after claiming victory in the last three fixtures, winning 16-12 in Turin, then 48-7 in Edinburgh and most recently 36-20 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome where tries from back row duo John Barclay and John Hardie along with a late effort from wing Tommy Seymour saw the Scots come out on top.
The home side will also take solace in the fact that they have won both of their home games this season which makes it three in a row after their 19-16 victory over Argentina last season, while Italy traditionally have not travelled well; their last win away was in June last year after sneaking a 24-20 win over the United States in San Jose.
Scotland have made one change to their side with Ross Ford coming in at hooker. The number two will add some physicality to the Scottish pack but more importantly his vast experience in the royal blue jersey will be important.
Cotter has dropped Fraser Brown to the bench after his transgression last week where he lifted England winger Elliot Daly above the horizontal angle to cop a yellow which led to speculation among many pundits saying that it should have been a red.
The Italians have made four changes to their side with Tommaso Benvenuti replacing Michele Campagnaro at outside centre, Maxime Mata Mbanda’ comes in for Simone Favaro on the flank, George Biagi takes Andries Van Schalkwyk place in the locks while up front Ornel Gega is in for Leonardo Ghiraldini as hooker at Murrayfield.
Players to Watch
For Scotland: The fine tuned try-scoring abilities of Tim Visser will be massive for Scotland’s cause. The Harlequins speedster has pace to burn and is excellent at judging play and placing himself in a position to score. All he needs is an inch of space and quick distribution to get over the whitewash which should be no problem with Scotland’s slick backline.
For Italy: The fast attacking play of Edoardo Gori will be crucial to get the Italians on the front foot. Gori was impressive against France last weekend despite the loss after making 38 completed passes to keep Italy moving forwards and made several well placed kicks to get behind the French. His defence was also impressive and Italy will need Gori at his best.
Head-to-head: This game could be won or lost in the trenches which makes the grit and doggedness of the loose forwards imperative. Italy boast a dynamic back row with ‘Il Capitano’ Sergio Parisse heading up his ferocious pack with South African-born steam engine Abraham Steyn and defensive dynamo Maxime Mata Mbanda on either side of him. They will come face-to-face with Hamish Watson and John Barclay who under Cotter’s leadership have developed into tackling machines while Ryan Wilson is master of the collision area.
2016: Scotland won 36-20 in Rome
2015: Scotland won 48-7 in Edinburgh
2015: Scotland won 16-12 in Turin
2015: Italy won 22-19 at Murrayfield
2014: Scotland won 21-20 in Rome
2013: Scotland won 30-29 in Pretoria
2013: Scotland won 34-10 at Murrayfield
2012: Italy won 13-6 in Rome
2011: Scotland won 23-12 at Murrayfield
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Gordon Reid Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell Du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Matt Scott
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Abraham Steyn, 6 Maxime Mata Mbanda’, 5 George Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Francesco Minto, 22 Marcello Violi, 23 Luca Sperandio
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 12:30 GMT
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)