15 of the Scottish 23 also played in last season’s fixture at Murrayfield, while Italy have just eight returnees from that defeat, with Paolo Garbisi and Juan Ignacio Brex the only backs still involved.

One of the additions to the lineup for the dark blues is Finn Russell, who missed out on last year’s match due to injury. The mercurial fly half has only featured once in Scotland’s last six encounters with the Italians, therefore he should provide a fresh challenge for the Azzurri’s defensive systems.

During the current Six Nations, three backs – Huw Jones, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell – and four forwards – Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson and Scott Cummings – have held their starting positions for each of the first four rounds.

Scotland’s number 6 jersey has had a different incumbent for each fixture so far.

Scotland Rugby News: Head to heads 

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It can be difficult to see these games from a neutral’s viewpoint – having suffered through too many high pressure moments between these sides over the years! Taking a step back for a moment though, it’s surely fair to say that anyone tuning in with no strong allegiances will look at those back 3s and think – as long as the weather plays ball – this game could be a lot of fun.

These are players who can create tries for themselves and others from almost nothing and almost anywhere on the pitch. Ange Capuozzo and Monty Ioane have scored more Test tries than the rest of the Italian starting XV combined and this is where the biggest danger to Scotland’s line is likely to lie.

Scotland Rugby News:

In the last four years, the only occasion that Huw Jones has started a Test match without Sione Tuipulotu alongside him in the centres was 20th March 2021 versus Italy at Murrayfield when Sam Johnson was his partner.

Huw Jones’ starting centre combos for Scotland:

  • 13 matches – Sione Tuipulotu
  • 10 – Alex Dunbar
  • 5 – Peter Horne, Sam Johnson
  • 1 – Chris Harris, Nick Grigg, Finn Russell, Duncan Taylor, Cameron Redpath

The Huwipulotu pairing may only have been magicked into existence in December 2022 for Glasgow Warriors and February 2023 for Scotland but its absence will still be keenly felt.

The Benetton duo of Tommaso Menoncello and Juan Ignacio Brex are big time going forward but missed 15 tackles in defence across the opening two rounds of this year’s tournament.

Scotland Rugby News:

Finn Russell can probably empathise with some of the pressures that Paolo Garbisi finds himself facing. Both uber-talents have had to deal with massive expectation levels and the hopes of a nation resting on their shoulders.

Both men stepped into lineups that were struggling and helped change their identity. What Russell had in his early years - that Garbisi has lacked - was an experienced scrum half to guide him through.

The Scottish 10 followed up his partnership with Greig Laidlaw with consistent pairings, first with Ali Price and, latterly, Ben White. Saturday’s game will be just the second time in his 76 starts at stand off that Russell’s half back colleague has come from outwith that trio.

By contrast, in just his last eight outings in the Six Nations, Garbisi has started alongside five different scrum halves – Martin Page-Relo, Stephen Varney, Alessandro Garbisi, Alessandro Fusco and Callum Braley.

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There have been Scottish wins in Rome that have had scrum dominance as one of their foundations. For example, the 2016 edition featured the classic Al Dickinson / Ross Ford / WP Nel front row at the height of their powers and winning penalties for fun. 2020 saw Rory Sutherland turning Giosue Zilocchi inside out.

This is an area that, until the game kicks off at least, both sides will feel they can carve out an advantage. Scotland’s preparations will no doubt have highlighted the number of penalties conceded by Italy’s props – particularly replacement tighthead, Zilocchi.

The Azzurri will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on a Scottish scrum with the lowest success rate in the competition at 59%.

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All four of this quartet of locks were involved in the World Cup and their season commenced back in August with warm-up matches ahead of that tournament. This will be game number 17 of the campaign for Lorenzo Cannone; 19 for Grant Gilchrist (all starts); 20 for Federico Ruzza; and 22 for Scott Cummings.

In a position that requires high levels of work – carrying, tackling, hitting rucks as well as intensive efforts at the setpiece, these players have played an awful lot of rugby. Their clubs could potentially have as many as 14 fixtures remaining after the final two rounds of Six Nations‘ action.

Expect to see all four of these players heavily involved on Saturday but something surely has to give in the coming weeks to allow them a proper rest to keep performances at peak levels.

Scotland Rugby News:

Aged 25 and 24 respectively, Michele Lamaro and Rory Darge, could keep meeting like this for a number of years yet. The Italian skipper sets the tone for his side. He can be fiery and passionate but his priority is an intense focus and getting the work done.

While Lamaro may leave much of the jackal threat to other players in his side (the Azzurri's props tend to be annoyingly proficient in this area, as long as they don’t need to chase too far...) Scotland’s co-captain’s USP is his freakish ability to turn over ball.

This contrast in styles will help contribute to an intriguing contest at the breakdown. In a finely poised battle, the contributions of the two opensides could have a huge influence on the relative quality of possession available to both their own team and their opponents.

Scotland Rugby News:

This is the eighth occasion that Gregor Townsend has opted for a six forwards / two backs split on the bench during his time in charge of Scotland – but just the second time in a Six Nations fixture after France in Paris last year.

Scotland Rugby News:

All three of the Italian replacement backs were born in the 2000s, as were all bar one – Giosue Zilocchi, 1997 – of their substitute forwards. In all there are 11 players born in the 2000s in the Azzurri’s matchday squad. Juan Ignacio Brex is the only man over 30 in their lineup.

This side could still be around in its entirety at the end of the current World Cup cycle and with more than double their current tally of caps under their belts.

By comparison, Scotland’s 23 includes eight over-30s while Ewan Ashman and Rory Darge are the only players born in the 2000s.

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– There are ten Glasgow Warriors, seven Edinburgh men and six Exiles in the Scotland 23. The Italian squad is made up of players from Benetton (13), Zebre (2) and Lyon (2) plus one each from Bayonne, Toulon, Toulouse, Exeter, Gloucester and Harlequins,

– George Turner has scored more Test tries than the combined efforts of all 13 forwards that have been selected by Italy – 10 v 9.

– Finn Russell plays his 40th game in the championship, the seventh Scot to do so since the tournament expanded to include Italy. Six Nations appearances only:

  • 57 – Ross Ford
  • 55 – Stuart Hogg
  • 53 – Chris Paterson
  • 50 – Sean Lamont
  • 44 – Scott Murray
  • 43 – Chris Cusiter
  • 40 – Finn Russell

– Pierre Schoeman is the first Scottish loosehead prop to start 13 consecutive matches in the championship since Tom Smith (who started 22 in a row between 2000 and 2004).