Rugby

Key talking points as Scotland prepare to face Italy in Guinness Six Nations

Scotland face Italy in their penultimate Guinness Six Nations match at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the showdown in Rome.

There is every chance of Scottish history being made in Rome this weekend. Duhan Van Der Merwe moved within one of Scotland’s record try-scorer Stuart Hogg when he scored a match-defining hat-trick against England at Murrayfield last time out. A single score will be enough to take the South Africa-born wing level with Hogg on 27, but in his current form – five tries in his last three Six Nations matches – few would bet against him doing enough at the Stadio Olimpico to break the record outright. Hogg, incidentally, is set to be watching on from the stand after completing a fundraising cycle to the Italian capital in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie charity.

Scotland have not finished in the top two of the championship since winning the last staging of the Five Nations in 1999. They arrive in Rome knowing a victory will keep them on course to do so for the first time in the 21st century. Gregor Townsend’s team are currently second in the table – a point ahead of England and three above France – with two matches to play. While they still have an outside chance of pipping Ireland to the title, finishing second appears to be a more realistic target.

There is an element of freshness to the Scotland team this weekend as Townsend has handed opportunities to three players who have been regular squad members in recent seasons but who are not accustomed to starting in the dark blue. Burgeoning Bath centre Cam Redpath makes his fourth Scotland start in place of the injured Sione Tuipulotu, Glasgow scrum-half George Horne has been handed his first start since the 2019 World Cup as Toulon’s Ben White gets the weekend off to rest, while in-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie has finally been rewarded with first international start two years after making his debut at home to France.

Italy have bounced back well from a chastening World Cup and have proved particularly testing opponents for England and France under recently-installed head coach Gonzalo Quesada. The Azzurri lost by just three points to the Red Rose on match-day one and drew away to France in their last outing, with a last-gasp penalty miss costing them what would have been a famous victory in Lille. The Italians have lost their last 13 meetings with the Scots but they gave Townsend’s team a good game at Murrayfield a year ago and have every reason to be confident of doing so again on home soil this weekend.

The Stadio Olimpico regularly hosts capacity crowds for football matches, such as Thursday’s Europa League showdown between Roma and Brighton, but it is far more unusual for the iconic bowl in the north-west of the Eternal City to sell out for rugby matches. It is a sign of the relative buoyancy of both of these nations, therefore, that almost 70,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s match.

Xural.com

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