Preview: Scotland v Italy

Date published: August 28 2015

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Scotland ended a run of almost a year without a win last week and will be eager not to let that good work go to waste against Italy on Saturday.

It was hardly a classic in Turin but the Scots got what they so desperately needed as a late score from Henry Pyrgos saw them to an away victory.

Now comes the all-important task of building on it and with a much stronger line-up named this weekend – arguably as close to their first choice as it can get – Vern Cotter's charges will be looking for a more comfortable result in front of a record crowd at Murrayfield Stadium for a mid-year international match.

Scotland's big guns are back in the shape of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell in the backline and David Denton, Jonny Gray and Ross Ford up front, which points to an improved win margin for the hosts and it's difficult to see why that won't happen. But, Italy won last time at this venue, in this year's Six Nations.

So often clashes between the pair are closely fought with only one of their recent six meetings having been settled by more than seven points. But if Scotland want to be taken seriously and talked up not only as potential runner-up but winner of their Rugby World Cup pool, now is the time to prove it.

Cotter has the personnel to challenge for such a feat, especially in the centre where Peter Horne and Mark Bennett get their chance this week. Matt Scott is on the bench while there is also Alex Dunbar to consider once he is back from injury.

Speaking of key players, Jacques Brunel continues to keep Sergio Parisse on ice and rightly so as he knows what his captain can do so it would be foolish to risk injury. Meanwhile, scrum-half Edoardo Gori is serving the last week of a ban.

Number nine, however, is another position Scotland have a wealth of talent as Pyrgos and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne have impressed all year for club and recently country. Laidlaw though is the international skipper and in the box seat heading into the September showpiece, due in part to his goal-kicking and solid leadership from the base of the scrum.

It's therefore all set up for Scotland's superior attacking threats to throw down a marker to their Pool B rivals. South Africa and Samoa are without doubt going to be tough propositions but Scotland face them close to home, in Newcastle, in the upcoming tournament. Claiming back-to-back wins and momentum this week is crucial.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: After not featuring in any of the Rugby World Cup warm-up games so far, Finn Russell is back to lead from fly-half. Alongside Greig Laidlaw, this should be Scotland's first-choice half-back combination going forward and if centre Peter Horne continues his excellent form in 2015/16, he could well force Vern Cotter to rethink who gets the 12 jersey.

For Italy: We look at Luca Morisi who gets a start at inside centre. Morisi has always impressed in the Azzurri jersey and with Gonzalo Garcia not involved, he could well put his hand up for a regular starts. Michele Campagnaro is the likely 13 so a good partnership with him and Jacques Brunel will take note. Tommaso Allan gets another shot at ten.

Head-to-head: It's hard not to look past the front-row battle at Murrayfield as Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Nel take on Matias Aguero, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Martin Castrogiovanni. The Azzurri will fancy their chances against their opposite numbers at the scrum, with this Italy's penultimate chance to flex their muscles ahead of upcoming World Cup.

Recent results:

2015: Scotland won 16-12 in Turin
2015: Italy won 22-19 at Murrayfield
2014: Scotland won 21-20 in Rome
2013: Scotland won 30-29 in Pretoria
2013: Scotland won 34-10 at Murrayfield
2012: Italy won 13-6 in Rome
2011: Scotland won 23-12 at Murrayfield
2011: Scotland won 21-8 at Murrayfield
2010: Italy won 16-12 in Rome
2009: Scotland won 26-6 at Murrayfield

Prediction: Expect another scrappy game with Scotland coming out on top by 15 points.

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 David Denton, 7 John Barclay, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Matt Scott.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Andrea Masi.

Date: Saturday, August 29
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Mathieu Raynal (France)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Donal Courtney (Ireland)

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