Preview: Scotland v Italy talking points

Duhan van der Merwe in action for Scotland v Italy during 2021 Six Nations Scotland and Italy will do battle at Murrayfield (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland and Italy round off their Six Nations campaign at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.

Here, we look at some key talking points ahead of the Edinburgh showdown.

Third place at stake for Scots

Victory will almost certainly see Scotland secure a third-place finish in the championship for the first time since 2018. It will also be the first time since then they have won three of their five matches. If that scenario comes to pass, it means they will have come up short only against the two highest-ranked teams in the world, Ireland and France, so they can begin the countdown to the World Cup in a positive frame of mind.

No Hogg or Russell

Scotland have not gone into a Six Nations match without either of their two influential backs Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell since 2019. They will be missing the pair this weekend due to injuries that forced them off in the closing stages of last weekend’s defeat by Ireland. As it was in the summer tour of South America, with several big names rested, the depth of the squad will be tested this weekend. Ollie Smith takes over from Hogg at full-back while Blair Kinghorn replaces Russell at stand-off.

Blair switch project continues

The versatile Blair Kinghorn was deployed in the number 10 jersey for five consecutive Tests last year but, since the return of Russell to the fold midway through the Autumn Series, the plan to mould the Edinburgh man into a stand-off option for Scotland appeared to have been shelved. Kinghorn has been used more often from the bench as a full-back in this tournament and was instead expected to take the place of Hogg at number 15, but Gregor Townsend has once again placed his faith in the 26-year-old to pull the strings at fly-half. Given Russell’s excellent recent form, Kinghorn has big boots to fill and is sure to be closely scrutinised.

First-choice locks out

Scotland are missing another influential duo in the shape of second-rowers Grant Gilchrist, who is suspended, and Richie Gray, who is injured. Sam Skinner and Johnny Gray, who has deputised for Gilchrist since his red card in Paris, are the two locks chosen to start against Italy, with Scott Cummings, who came on against Ireland last weekend, on the bench. The Scots are confident they have enough cover to deal with the absence of the experienced duo.

Italian passion

Italy have lost all four of their matches so far, but they are generally deemed to have been competitive throughout the campaign, including against the heavyweights of Ireland and France. They finished last season’s Six Nations with a headline-grabbing win away to Wales and will be hoping to claim some form of consolation this time round at BT Murrayfield, a stadium where they have previously experienced victory in 2007 and 2015.

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