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Scotland v Italy: Summer Nations Series 2023, Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Scotland forwards George Turner, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Scotland forwards George Turner, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Just 134 days have elapsed since these sides last met, on that occasion in the Six Nations. The different circumstances of this fixture mean that there has been a hefty transformation in the two squads. Exactly half of the 46 men on show were not involved in the game in March. Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, George Turner and Sam Skinner are the only returning starters for the Scots. Italy retain Pierre Bruno, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Allan and Federico Ruzza (the latter 2 in different positions from the Six Nations match).

The total cap count for the 23s have dropped from:

Scotland 659 – 467 Italy
to
Scotland 435 – 357 Italy

11 Scotland changes from last Test (v Italy)

  • 14/11 – Graham for van der Merwe
  • 13 – Harris for Jones
  • 12 – McDowall for Tuipulotu
  • 10 – Healy for Kinghorn
  • 9 – Price for White
  • 1 – Sutherland for Schoeman
  • 3 – Walker for Z. Fagerson
  • 4/5 – Cummings for J. Gray
  • 6 – Crosbie for Ritchie
  • 7 Darge for Watson
  • 8 – M. Fagerson for Dempsey


BACK 3 – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Ollie Smith
Darcy Graham
Kyle Steyn

15
14
11

Lorenzo Pani*
Pierre Bruno
Montanna Ioane

23  Tries  9
92kg  Average weight 
95kg
46  Total caps 
29
4  RWC matches  0
26.2  Average age  25.6

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

Ollie Smith gets the first shot at the 15 shirt in the post-Stuart Hogg era. The youngest player in Scotland’s starting lineup makes his fourth start at full back for the national side. Only Sean Maitland (7), Blair Kinghorn (8) and Hogg (99) are ahead of Smith for appearances at 15 in the last dozen years.

While there might be space to attack against Italy, what’s more likely to be needed against the big guns during the World Cup is a potent kicking game. Will the coaches try to curb Ollie’s natural tendencies to run, with one eye on how the team will need to play against South Africa and Ireland?


CENTRES – ADVANTAGE ITALY

Chris Harris
Stafford McDowall*

13
12

Tommaso Menoncello
Luca Morisi

5  Tries  9
104kg  Average weight 
98kg
42  Total caps 
54
4  RWC matches  2
29.0  Average age  26.7

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

Stafford McDowall’s breakout season is deservedly rewarded with a debut cap. If he has ambitions to push on further and join the squad in France he could do worse than look at the example of his club colleague, Scott Cummings. The big lock made his own quantum leap forward during the 2018/19 season which propelled him into the RWC 2019 training squad. His debut in the opening warm-up match lead to a run of 20 consecutive appearances for Scotland, including all four matches in Japan at the World Cup.

Stafford has the sizeable blockage of Huwipulotu in his way and there are less bench opportunities for a specialist centre than a lock. At his very best though, he can provide a handy hard-carrying, distributing option with an eye for the tryline and a massive boot to support the primary kicking options. Some big performances could carry him into the final squad.


HALF BACKS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Ben Healy
Ali Price

10
9

Tommaso Allan
Martin Page-Relo*

4  Tries  13
92kg  Average weight 
85kg
62  Total caps 
71
1  RWC matches  7
27.2  Average age  27.4

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

Since hobbling out of the opening fixture of the last World Cup, Ali Price has played in 34 out of 36 Tests for Scotland (29 starts). The British & Irish Lion has been near indispensable to the cause for the best part of seven years now but has probably never been under more pressure for his place having lost his Scotland 9 shirt to Ben White and seen George Horne favoured for the Glasgow starting slot in his club’s biggest games of the season just gone. The scrum half has the chance to prove the old adage that class is permanent and set down a marker for his rivals when he tackles Italy – a side that he has a habit of sparking long-range tries against.

Ali’s half back partner, Ben Healy, will be the 10th player to wear the Scotland 10 shirt since Finn Russell burst onto the international scene in 2014. The newly minted Edinburgh player (although he has yet to run out for his current club) could be battling with Adam Hastings for a seat on the plane to France. Although Stuart Hogg’s departure – for a number of reasons including the impact on Blair Kinghorn’s role – might force the selection of extra cover at stand off which would lead to some hard choices elsewhere in the squad.


FRONT ROW – EVEN

Rory Sutherland
George Turner
Murphy Walker

1
2
3

Federico Zani
Epalahame Faiva
Pietro Ceccarelli

324kg  Weight  341kg
9  Tries  3
60  Total caps 
52
1  RWC matches  2
28.5  Average age  31.7

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

This will be just the second Test start at Murrayfield (third at all venues) for Rory Sutherland since he went on the 2021 Lions’ tour. With 6 of the 7 props in the training squad likely to make the final RWC selection, the Borderer is odds on to be heading to his first World Cup.

Pierre Schoeman is likely to be the first choice loosehead and Jamie Bhatti’s 27 caps in the 17 jersey make him a strong candidate for the replacement role. Currently unattached, Rory won’t lack for motivation though to press his case to secure both a Scotland slot and a new contract.


SECOND ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Sam Skinner
Scott Cummings

4
5

David Sisi
Andrea Zambonin

226kg  Weight  227kg
2  Tries  0
50  Total caps 
29
4  RWC matches  2
27.6  Average age  26.7

2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland
(the previous occasion was August 2019)

As mentioned above the last World Cup was the springboard for Scott Cummings to make himself an automatic Scotland selection for a couple of years. However, since then he has made just two previous Test starts in the last 28 months. Since playing in 20 in a row from his debut he has only featured in 6 out of the last 24 matches for Scotland. The Gray / Gray / Gilchrist triumvirate brings plenty of power but if he’s at his best Scott can provide a bit more dynamism and a good foil for a heavyweight tighthead lock.


BACK ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Luke Crosbie
Rory Darge (c)
Matt Fagerson

6
7
8

Federico Ruzza
Manuel Zuliani
Toa Halafihi

320kg  Weight  328kg
3  Tries  0
44  Total caps 
60
0  RWC matches  3
24.9  Average age  27.3

1st time this unit has started together for Scotland

Rory Darge makes just his second appearance at Murrayfield while by contrast, Matt Fagerson has missed just a single match at the home of Scottish rugby since the sport returned after the Covid hiatus in 2020 (18 out of 19 games played). The Glasgow Warriors’ duo will be tasked with spoiling and scavenging Italian possession to disrupt the quick passing game the visitors will be desperate to play.

Their colleague in the back row could be one of the key performers though. Luke Crosbie can do it all but what Scotland really need from him on Saturday is the kind of aggressive carrying he has showcased so often for Edinburgh in recent seasons. A few tackles nailing Italian forwards on the gain line will aso be a good way of establishing if the lad from Livvy is ready to build for sterner tests to come – finding a way to contain a monstrous South African pack chief among them.


FORWARD REPLACEMENTS – EVEN

Stuart McInally
Jamie Bhatti
Javan Sebastian

Cameron Henderson*
Josh Bayliss

16
17
18

19
20

Marco Manfredi
Danilo Fischetti
Filippo Alongi

Edoardo Iachizzi
Lorenzo Cannone

113kg  Average weight  112kg
11  Tries  2
82  Total caps 
45
4  RWC matches  0
28.2  Average age  24.5

Stuart McInally is in line for his first cap since the Six Nations’ game away to Italy in March 2022. The veteran Edinburgh player is the only member of the 23 to make their debut prior to the 2015 World Cup. Stuart was early on in his conversion to hooker when he took his Test match bow away to Italy in that summer’s warm-up matches before narrowly missing out on the final RWC squad.


BACK REPLACEMENTS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Jamie Dobie
Blair Kinghorn
Cameron Redpath

21
22
23

Alessandro Garbisi
Giacomo Da Re
Federico Mori

14  Tries  1
88kg  Average weight 
92kg
49  Total caps 
17
2  RWC matches  0
24.1  Average age  22.8

Jamie Dobie’s only previous cap came back in October 2021 against Tonga. The youthful scrum half spent much of the tail end of the season playing on the wing for Glasgow and will have his work cut out to establish himself in the World Cup squad. If he does make it, he will only just have turned 30 when the 2031 RWC rolls around so could easily make it to three tournaments – and maybe even a fourth if he plays on until 34 as Greig Laidlaw did.


* Test debut

Miscellany

 Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe have scored a combined 28 tries in the 31 Tests that Scotland have played since Duhan made his debut. What odds another try for wee Darcy on Saturday afternoon?

– The starting XV have combined for the seventh fewest previous starts for a selection in the Townsend era (67 matches).

– The 13 Italian forwards included in their squad have scored a combined tally of 5 tries in 186 caps. Scotland’s starting hooker, George Turner, has bagged 9 tries in 35 Tests and his replacement, Stuart McInally, has 11 tries in 47 appearances.

– At 870kgs, only once in the Townsend era has a lighter starting pack been named (869kg away to Georgia in August 2019). Just five months ago during the Six Nations, Scotland started the heaviest pack of the last six years – 928kg v Ireland.

– There are just 7 players in the lineup who have already played at a World Cup for Scotland (Italy have 5):

  • 4 games played – Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Scott Cummings, Stuart McInally
  • 2 games played – Blair Kinghorn
  • 1 game played – Ali Price, George Turner


If you missed Part 1 – previous meetings, scouting report and more – check it out here.

23 Responses

  1. Chris Harris? He can’t play rugby ! It’s shocking that he’s anything to do with Scotland rugby.

  2. Scotland are a different beast with/without Finn Russell.
    Today will likely see more pragmatic game-plan given the players selected.
    Healy is an excellent 10 and could use the wide-open spaces of Murrayfield to ensure we play where we want to play.
    GT will almost certainly omit Redpath or McDowall and Harris will travel, I’ve been consistent in my opinion, a solid club player, no more, gets in the way IMO

  3. Whose cornflakes did Johnny Matthews piss in to not be making the squad over McInally?

    1. Really not sure how ‘liked’ a person/player Jonny is. Pure speculation on my part but he scored a try for Glasgow at end of the season and basically noone congratulated him. Same when he made a mistake throwing in – noone went up to talk to him. Just an observation – is he a ‘team’ player?

  4. Harris and Price are having brilliant games, showing why they are lions this first half to prove all the haters wrong.

  5. well we were a bit rusty but not too bad. Thought Healy looked a credible fly half and great to see Darcy Graham back – knows his way to the try line. But lots of errors in scrappy game and our defense was good. Early days on way to world cup

  6. Team for France.

    Kinghorn – Rowe – Jones – Redpath – Van Der Merwe – Hastings – Horne – Dempsey – Ritchie (C) – Bayliss – Henderson – Gilchrist – Fagerson – Ashman – Bhatti

    Tuipolotu – Russell – White – Watson – Gray – Nel – Schoeman – Cherry

    1. Hardly likely-GT says he’s putting out his best team for both France games.
      So expect to see Tuipolotu,Russell,Schoemann,Gray and Watson all start next week.
      I don’t think Rowe is really in the frame to feature due to fitness issues?

  7. I think this was a pretty good win. I thought Healy was quality, the best player on the pitch especially considering he had an agricultural pair of centers outside him and as some error prone 9’s inside with a pack that may have had parity but certainly not dominance, at least until the front row changed.
    Sebastian took the initiative over Walker. Darge was good.
    Sutherland and Crosbie were…meh
    The center’s were solid in defense but stalled the attack.
    Italy were more accurate, better disciplined and probably won most of the collisions but in the end we won by more than a score and 3 tries to 1 largely thanks to a good second half scrum, Healy’s good kicks from hand and good work from Darge and Fagerson on the floor.

    1. Healy’s kicking was very good but he showed little in attack and that cross kick was dodgy.
      The front rows was an odd one and very prone to observer bias! To my eyes, Walker kept his side up and won a pen. When they changed, Bhatti was going forward and Sebastian was on his knees.
      Darge had a mixed game as did Matt Fagerson but Crosbie was not the player Edinburgh had last season. All the second rows were on the quiet side.
      McDowall did well as first receiver and had a couple of good carries but Harris had a poor game (but did take an early shoulder knock). Ali Price did not play anywhere near his best.
      Darcy looked to be our only really dangerous player and took his chances.
      Not sure we learned much that we did not already know about these players……

      1. Healy showing little in attack was more due to whom he had inside him rather than Healy himself. Put Healy alongside Redpath, Jones, Tuipulotu he’d be just fine.

  8. It was not a spectacle , very little penetration and just never held the ball. It was good to see Toony with a smile and unphased by the performance.

  9. Just as in the last Scotland vs Italy game, the Scots forwards failed to dominate at the breakdown: so much so, that it seemed that part of the game plan was for them to stand off and allow Italy to recycle. That tactic will be ruthlessly punished by more clinical teams – if you have to concede the ball, don’t also concede ground.

    OK, the game was a necessary and useful exercise in giving players game time and identifying areas which need to improve. The real test for the coaching staff, will be to see if such are properly identified and addressed.

  10. In the last 2 Scotland v Italy games no Finn Russell. In the 6N Kinghorn proved again hes a good player but never a 10, in this weekends game centres not conducive to positive attacking back play.
    1st 23 Scotland are pretty good, quite a drop off thereafter, Roebuck, Finn Smith, Rory Hutchinson maybe even John Cooney should be in current extended squad.

  11. Townsend confirmed today it’ll be pretty much full strength for France.

    Seems sensible given we started the last world cup with our first choice team having not actually played together and several combinations either rusty, out of form or untested.

    Starting team essentially picks itself based on who didn’t play this game. Couple of minor talking points in who starts at hooker and who some of the replacements are. I’d be interested to see Ashman with the first team and Henderson or Bayliss get another run out from the bench. Also Redpath at 23.

    1. Good point about the different approach to 2019, I am glad you pointed that out. It feels much better. I am not sure who will be the replacement 10 on Saturday, or the 9’s , White and whom ? What about Hamish !

      Maybe we will not see the Test Team till St Etienne, which was a great rugby venue in 2007, I am tempted , I think it could be a cracking test and a festival of food, wine and frivolity.

      I am wondering if we will have a strong bench and see the test side on the pitch at full time this Saturday ?

  12. That performance was dire, but funnily enough (and a bit like the 6N game) I never felt like we were going to lose the game. Obviously Josh Bayliss’ try at the end put a gloss on it, but this win will be good for the squad as a whole, against an Italian side that are no mugs.
    In terms of who put their hand up for cementing their place in the squad, I am not sure there were many. Darcy obviously. Healy and Turner possibly. Darge and Fagerson worked hard, but were outplayed by their opposite numbers. All the others still have work to do, although not sure anyone played themselves out of the reckoning either.
    Just a thought – is it a coincidence that Italy scored their only try when Harris had been replaced?

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