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Duncan Weir’s drop goal settled the last meeting between Italy and Scotland the last time they faced off in the Italian capital – a moment of great drama made for the coliseum as Scotland snatched a 21-20 win – yet bizarrely that moment stands as Scotland’s most recent win in the Six Nations.
Now 736 days later Vern Cotter’s troops will return to Rome wanting to put a surprisingly poor record to rest.
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Talk of Scotland punishing England with their ambitious attack proved short-lived, before a result in Cardiff looked well within grasp until Wales and Warrenball, the onslaught of powerful runners to get over the gain line, shifted up a couple of gears.
Scotland’s record in Rome is poor, with just the two wins in the last decade, but Cotter will feel that he has enough quality from 1-15 to cause Italy problems across all areas of the game.
What of Italy though, so tenacious in Paris in the opening game when nobody gave the a prayer. Over-ambition was their downfall against England in Round 2 when their heads instantly dropped following Jonathan Joseph’s interception try.
Jacques Brunel is looking to go out with a bang to round off a reign that will be looked back on as a whimper.
Exposing younger players such as David Odiete, who returns from injury, and Carlo Canna, missing on Saturday, should at least give the next Italy boss – all eyes on Conor O’Shea – something to work with.
Italy need the optimism from that opening day loss back and to have forgotten the bruising scoreline they ultimately ended up on the wrong side of against England. We’ve seen the potential, but that’s worth nothing without a scalp.
Wins away to Wales and Ireland look unlikely, so now is the Azzurri’s time to strike.
Team news: Kelly Haimona will start at fly-half in place of the injured Canna as one of four changes. Leonardo Ghiraldini comes in to the run-on side in place of Ornel Gega, Josh Furno replaces George Biagi in the second row, though in positive news Odiete returns to the side at full-back.
Fit-again Scotland wing Tim Visser – 10 tries in 23 Tests – is the only change to the starting Scotland side, as Sean Lamont moves to the bench where he is joined by the uncapped Rory Sutherland and Exeter’s Moray Low looking for his 30th cap. Ryan Wilson and Peter Horne also join the replacements.
Players to Watch
For Italy: The Azzurri’s best player in last year’s Six Nations was undoubtedly Joshua Furno, the long-haired blonde giant who caught the eye not only through his lineout prowess but also in the loose. Furno has been sidelined up until this game but returns from injury just in time to fill the void left by George Biagi’s own knock. Should Italy opt to play it fast and loose then Furno will be a major weapon.
For Scotland: Since that swing of the leg from Weir two years ago Finn Russell has steamed into the Scotland number ten shirt and made it his own, ousting his Glasgow Warriors team-mate by getting the best out of Scotland’s attack. Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw will take care of the goalkicking on Saturday which frees up Russell to focus on controlling territory and to rip passes out to his collection of runners outside.
Head-to-head: Two highly-rated outside centres. Michele Campagnaro has returned from injury and from limited game time with his club at Exeter Chiefs to resemble the lethal back capable of splitting defences who first caught out eye years ago. Luca Morisi stole the show in the Italian 13 shirt last season, but this is now Campagnaro’s time.
He goes up against Mark Bennett, hugely admired in Scotland and by Cotter and his coaching staff who has shown time and again what a classy all-round player he is, but especially with his distribution and finishing. Scotland will look to the 23-year-old for a moment of magic.
Italy: 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Andrea Pratichetti
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont