Head coach Bryan Easson has made four changes to the side that lost to England a fortnight ago as Scotland look to end a three-match losing streak to the Italians in their final Six Nations pool match to be played at Scotstoun.
Try-scorer against England, Hannah Smith, is not involved as the rapier-like centre is training with the Team GB Olympic 7s squad, so a midfield shuffle sees Helen Nelson move from stand-off to inside-centre and Lisa Thomson shifts out a spot to the 13 jersey.
Replacing Nelson at stand-off will be Sarah Law, who returns to action after over a year out of action having sustained an Achilles injury.
Despite the long lay off, Easson showed no concerns about throwing her back into the fold:
“Sarah is desperate to get going, it has been a long time since she played and she’ll be fine.
“One thing you don’t need to worry about is her confidence, she knows her rugby inside out and she is the one around the squad who has serious rugby knowledge.
“What she does as a 10 well is she moves the pawns around the pitch, and what I mean is that she is a 10 in the women’s game who can think two or three phases ahead rather than phase by phase and with her and Helen at 10 and 12 they are both confident rugby players.”
The final change in the backs sees Liz Musgrove start on the right wing instead of Rachel Shankland, who had been replaced at half-time of that match v England.
In the pack, it was confirmed earlier in the week that regular captain Rachel Malcolm’s tournament is over having sustained a knee injury, meaning Evie Gallagher will start her first match for Scotland at blindside flanker.
“When you lose any player with that experience it’s a tough one to take. It’s a blow, not having her around the group makes things a little quieter, but that instils leadership in others.
“She’s been around this week, she said she didn’t realise we were going to be in certain places and there she was! It was nice to see her and she’ll be back soon enough.
“Evie (NB: Gallagher, Evie Wills is on the bench as a potential debutant) doesn’t look out of place. You can tell the way she plays she’s had a lot o support about her, she’s been involved in basketball and athletics, she’s played at good levels in those sports. It was really unfortunate after the red card to Molly (Wright) she had to come back off because we needed a front rower, but she’s trained very well this week.”
Cartha QP’s Christine Belisle makes way for Megan Kennedy at tight-head, and although the south-Glasgow based player will wear the 19 shirt, Easson confirmed that she’ll be expected to come on at tighthead if and when required.
“I thought Christine played really well but she’s still in her infancy when it comes to playing tight-head. She put in a good performance scrum-wise but it’s not just the scrum, th’s those little things about the field, defence and line-out/maul. Having that experience at 3 makes a big difference.”
The immediate effect of this meeting will define both sides placings in the truncated Women’s Six Nations tournament, but as a potential sub-plot, there is a likelihood that the teams will again face each other in a World Cup qualifier which was due to played in December 2020. The Italians have won the last three encounters, but when asked if it that would way on the minds of his charges, Easson was confident about where they are:
“We are in a different place, we are a different group now. We are just looking at the progress that we are making now as a group.
“We know the detail we have to hit and we have to come out of the traps. In training, or in matches, we have to be switched on from second one in the warm-up.
“If you are involved in these games it is a privilege. If you are involved in any games at international level there is pressure attached, but we see it as a positive.
“We are not putting any pressure on them to say ‘we must win the game’, the pressure is ‘let’s show what we have learned and put in a performance’.
“Our set piece has been getting better and we have put emphasis on that, I think in the past the set piece has been at about 50 or 60 percent success rate, we are looking at the high 80s or 90s. Set piece and speed in contact is key.”
Chloe Rollie, Liz Musgrove, Lisa Thomson, Helen Nelson(c), Megan Gaffney; Sarah Law, Mairi McDonald;
Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Megan Kennedy, Emma Wassell, Louise McMillan, Evie Gallagher, Rachel McLachlan, Siobhan Cattigan.
Replacements: Jodie Rettie, Lisa Cockburn, Panashe Muzambe, Christina Belisle, Nicola Howat, Jenny Maxwell, Evie Wills, Coreen Grant.