Two years ago Scotland scraped over the line thanks to a final quarter revival. Just 9 of the Scottish matchday 23 return from that fixture – and only Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Hamish Watson also started last time round in Rome.
The Italians call on 14 of the matchday squad that pushed Scotland hard before fading, with 9 of the starting XV the same as that spring day in 2018 at the Stadio Olimpico.
Tale of the tape
42 Tries 51
87kg Average weight 95kg
202 Total caps 214
84 6N caps 98
27.4 Average age 27.0
876kg Pack weight 904kg
11 Tries 17
269 Total caps 159
120 6N caps 67
27.3 Average age 26.1
7 Tries 19
122 Total caps 183
44 6N caps 58
26.7 Average age 27.8
3 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v England)
- 13 – Harris for Jones [=]
- 2 – McInally for Brown [=]
- 4/5 – Toolis for Gray [-]
Luca Bigi (c)
Stuart Hogg (c)
Backs – advantage Scotland
Italy’s outside backs have missed 18 tackles in their opening two fixtures of the Six Nations. Interestingly even though he must have been seen as a weakness Carlo Canna has probably been the most reliable of the defenders in this group. The out of position standoff has clearly been targeted in the inside centre channel and has been forced to attempt 32 tackles so far – 10 more than any other Italian back – but he’s only missed 2 and has stood up well.
There’s one selection decision that has caught the eye among Scottish fans and media… Short of Chris Harris scoring a hat-trick before parading off the pitch Conor McGregor style, the Gloucester player is likely to remain a divisive figure. A successful game more probably involves defending his channel, bringing his back 3 into the game and hammering the breakdown to slow Italian ball or speed it up when Scotland are attacking in the wider channels.
Forwards – advantage Scotland
For various reasons, there has been a 100% turnover in the Scottish tight 5 that started the last RWC match against Japan (Dell, Brown, Nel, Gilchrist, Gray). The current unit has an interesting mix of guys who will carry the ball tight and also a little wider to really test the Italian defence. They’ve got a 6kg a man weight advantage on their opponents for scrum time too.
The Italians’ tallest forward is 6’5″. This doesn’t seem to have hurt their lineout so far (they’ve only lost 2 in the Six Nations) but if Scotland can get a read on where the ball is going Toolis and Cummings will surely be aggressive in looking to get the dark blues’ first steal of the tournament.
Subs – advantage Scotland
Italy have gone with a 6 forwards / 2 backs split in each of their 3 games in the championship. That’s allowed them to make several early changes to their pack (46 minutes in v Wales; 51 mins v France) and sub on 5 forwards while holding 1 back for emergencies. Like Scotland their back replacements have had limited game time, averaging 15 minutes for their 4 subs (Scotland’s 6 potential subs have averaged 11 minutes on the pitch in their fixtures).
– Matchday squad splits by club:
- Italy – Benetton 12; Zebre 8; Exiles 3.
- Scotland – Edinburgh 9; Glasgow 8; Exiles 6.
– Scott Cummings is playing in his 11th consecutive Test since his debut in the first match of the 2019 summer series away to France. He is the only player to feature in all of those 11 games.
– At the start of the 2023 World Cup cycle, Italy have 6 players aged 29 or older in their lineup (4 starters and 2 subs) who might be considered unlikely to make it to France in just under 4 years’ time. Scotland have 7 in the 29+ bracket (3 starters and 4 subs).
– Looking back just 4 years to when Scotland beat Italy 36 – 20 in Rome the only returning players of the 46 from the matchday squads are:
- Italy – Bellini, Lovotti, Palazzani and Zanni.
- Scotland – Hogg, McInally, Nel and Sutherland.
– Players in the Italian squad who have won a Six Nations fixture – Zanni (8); Allan (1); Bisegni (1); Morisi (1). 19 of the Azzurri’s 23 have yet to experience victory in the championship – so they’ll definitely be hungry for a win…