Gregor Townsend will have to make at least one change to the Scotland team that started the Calcutta Cup win when they run out at the Stadio Olimpico next weekend.  

With Sione Tuipulotu out for up to eight weeks with the knee injury he picked up in victory over England, there will be a new wearer of Scotland’s number 12 jersey.  

Tuipulotu has become such an influential figure in Scotland’s midfield since making his debut against Tonga in October 2021.  

Not only does his carrying game rival the very best – he's level with forward pair Pierre Schoeman and Jack Dempsey for the championship so far (23) - but Tuipulotu is a threat with his passing game as displayed when Huw Jones carved through the England defence in the run-up to Duhan van der Merwe’s first try in the Calcutta Cup win.  

Tuipulotu also has a short kicking game that causes defences problems, and is a hard man to replace.  

We’ve taken a look at the contenders available to Gregor Townsend to fill the number 12 shirt in Rome next Saturday.  

Cameron Redpath 

Scotland Rugby News: Cameron Redpath breaks through the England defenceCameron Redpath breaks through the England defence (Image: SNS)

The obvious choice, having appeared off the bench in each of the first three matches of the Six Nations. Redpath, son of former Scotland skipper Bryan Redpath, has an excellent understanding of Finn Russell’s game, forged through their partnership at club level. He’s an excellent ball player and would give Scotland an extra playmaking option to move the Italian defenders around.  

The down side? He’s not as big as Tuipulotu and Scotland might have to find alternative ways to get over the gain line against the Azzurri if Redpath is the man to replace Tuipulotu.  

Stafford McDowall  

Scotland Rugby News: Stafford McDowall on debut against ItalyStafford McDowall on debut against Italy (Image: SNS)

A terrific display as captain of Glasgow against Benetton on Saturday afternoon did McDowall’s chances of returning to Italy on national team duty a week later. His left-footed kicking game was a real pressure reliever for Franco Smith’s side, while he’s a strong carrier: probably the most akin to Tuipulotu in that area of all the available options.  

His only international experience came in the first of Scotland’s World Cup warm-up series last summer. The opposition that day? Italy, and the Dumfries man equipped himself well.  

Rory Hutchinson 

Scotland Rugby News: Rory Hutchinson has struggled to force his way into the Scotland teamRory Hutchinson has struggled to force his way into the Scotland team (Image: SNS)

A player who has been in sensational form as his club side, Northampton Saints, soared to the summit of the Gallagher Premiership, Hutchinson has been unable to force his way into the international set-up so far this year.  

The 28-year-old is a real attacking threat and is equally comfortable slotting in at first receiver. Having played at fullback during the summer tour to Argentina in 2022, some might have expected him to step in when Kyle Steyn dropped out ahead of the France game, but Harry Paterson got the nod and performed admirably on his debut.  

Club colleague George Furbank told this reporter he has been surprised Hutchinson hasn’t managed to force his way into the squad. His big weakness, at least in Townsend’s eyes, seems to be his defence, but if he doesn’t get into the starting XV for Rome, he may well feature off the bench due to his versatility. 

Other options available to Townsend, though unlikely, would be shifting Finn Russell to inside centre and promoting Ben Healy - after a fine performance in Edinburgh's win over Ospreys on Friday evening - to the starting fly-half role.

Given Russell's outstanding form this campaign, and his pivotal role within the team,  as well as the fact Healy has played three minutes of Scotland's campaign so far, as a blood replacement late in the Calcutta Cup win, switching the co-captain from the number 10 shirt seems unlikely. 

READ MORE: Ben Healy feels no frustration over lack of Scotland action

Huw Jones could move in a place in Scotland's midfield, but that is an experiment Townsend has tried before - and not for six years. Jones started in the number 12 jersey, with Chris Harris the man outside him, in the 34-3 defeat to Wales in Cardiff. Given the fact Jones doesn't play regularly for Glasgow at inside centre, that seems another long shot. 

Part of Townsend's decision-making process might be whether he's comfortable with Redpath - who might be better suited to stretching the Italian defence - also taking on the power-laden Irish midfield of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in Dublin, or if he's comfortable with one-cap McDowall, a more powerful direct ball carrier, coming in for what could be a championship decider. 

The inside centre role is just one that will be up for debate by the Scotland coaches. They'll have to decide whether to stick with Jamie Ritchie after a quiet game against England, or reward Andy Christie for an industrious outing from the bench. 

Johnny Matthews scored his 11th try of the season in Glasgow's win over Benetton on Saturday, and might come into the equation for a second Test cap after his debut at the World Cup. 

Italy and Ireland have both deployed a 6/2 bench split this Six Nations, and Townsend will also have to decide whether to match them, or stick with his more traditional 5/3 split.

The Scotland head coach cited Blair Kinghorn's recent return to fitness as the reason he kept Ben Healy in reserve against England, but with the ex-Edinburgh man playing an hour for Toulouse in their win over Castres, Townsend may feel he's sufficient flexibility in his back division to bring another forward onto the bench. 

That could mean a return for Hamish Watson, player of the match in Edinburgh's win over Ospreys on Friday night. 

READ MORE:  Hamish Watson try helps Edinburgh to victory over Ospreys

But there are decisions to mull over for Townsend and his coaching staff before they name their team later in the week.