Scotland will look to get their 2022 Six Nations campaign back on track when they travel to Rome on Saturday to take on an Italy desperate to end their dismal losing streak in the championship.
Scotland’s tournament got off to such a promising start when they beat England in round 1 to win back-to-back Calcutta Cup matches for the first time since 1984 but things have gone badly off the rails since, as a narrow defeat to an average Wales and a heavier one to a rampaging France have squandered any momentum.
For Italy’s part, they don’t even know where the rails are as the torturous wait for a first Six Nations victory since 2015 rumbles on. The seemingly inevitable heavy defeats to France and England in the opening two rounds were followed by the heartbreaking scenes in Dublin where they had a player sent off and were then punished further by a niche World Rugby law that reduced them to 13 players for the remainder of the match, enabling Ireland to rack up a 57-6 beating that even they looked faintly embarrassed to be dishing out.
A game in Rome, against a shorn-of-confidence Scotland – the team they have beaten more than any other since joining the Six Nations in 2000, enjoying seven wins – would appear to be Italy’s best shot at that elusive triumph but it would be a brave person to back them to be leaving the Stadio Olimpico victorious on Saturday.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the game:
When is Italy v Scotland?
The match will kick-off at 2.15pm GMT on Saturday 12 March at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
How can I watch it?
It will be shown live on ITV with coverage starting from 1.30pm. It will also be available to stream live and for free on the ITV Hub and ITV website
What’s the team news?
Ali Price is set for his 50th Test cap when he starts at scrum half for Scotland on Saturday and will have the familiar face of Finn Russell outside him to complete a potent half-back partnership but Gregor Townsend has opted for five changes to the side that lost to France in round three.
Sam Johnson comes into the centers for the first time since the opening win over England and Kyle Steyn makes his first Six Nations start on the wing in place of Duhan van der Merwe – who is suspended after getting sent off for club side Worcester Warriors against London Irish during the rest of the week.
In the forwards, Matt Fagerson returns from injury at No 8, Hamish Watson is back at flanker after recovering from Covid and George Turner is named to start at hooker ahead of Stuart McInally. On the bench, Adam Hastings could make his first appearance of this year’s Six Nations after the experiment of Blair Kinghorn as the replacement fly half yielded fairly abject results.
Meanwhile, Italy have made two injury-enforced changes as they pursue that elusive Six Nations win, with Callum Braley replacing Stephen Varney at scrum-half and Giacomo Nicotera making his debut at hooker after Gianmarco Lucchesi suffered a dislocated elbow. The rest of the side is the same as the impressive Michele Lamaro captains the Azzurri from the back row and talismanic fly half Paolo Garbisi pulls the strings from No 10.
Italy XV: 15. Edoardo Padovani; 14. Pierre Bruno, 13. Juan Ignacio Brex, 12. Leonardo Marin, 11. Montanna Ioane; 10. Paolo Garbisi, 9. Callum Braley; 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Pietro Ceccarelli, 4. Niccolò Cannone, 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Giovanni Pettinelli, 7. Michele Lamaro (c), 8. Toa Halafihi
Replacements: 16. Luca Bigi, 17. Ivan Nemer, 18. Giosuè Zilocchi, 19. David Sisi, 20. Manuel Zuliani, 21. Alessandro Fusco, 22. Marco Zanon, 23. Ange Capuozzo
Scotland XV: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Kyle Steyn; 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Sam Skinner, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Rory Darge, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: 16. Stuart McInally, 17. Allan Dell, 18. WP Nel, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Magnus Bradbury, 21. Ben Vellacott, 22. Adam Hastings, 23. Sione Tuipulotu
Italy win: 9/1
Scotland win: 1/14
I think pretty much everyone of a non-Scottish persuasion would love to see Italy upset the apple cart here but despite losses in the previous two rounds, this Scotland side are too talented to slip up in Rome. The game will likely be over as a contest heading into the final 20 minutes. Italy 13-35 Scotland.