Preview: Scotland v Italy

Date published: February 27 2015

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They won't thank us for saying it but the likely Wooden Spoon decider will take place between Scotland and Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Both are zero from two after the opening rounds and in desperate need of a win that will hopefully propel them on their Championship run-in.

Scotland are heavy favourites for this one though and it's hardly a surprise seeing as Italy have only won once on Scottish soil and go into the match without talismanic figure Martin Castrogiovanni and influential backs Andrea Masi and Leonardo Sarto, who are all injured.

Of course losing Castrogiovanni is a setback but the latter duo's absence could be where the Scots profit most, as Alex Dunbar, Mark Bennett and the back-three are sure to put pressure on Italian debutants, wing Michele Visentin and centre Enrico Bacchin, who are in for tough bows.

Dunbar has impressed all season for both Glasgow and Scotland and speaking of the Warriors, there is a club that deserves praise for having ten starters in Saturday's team, with Peter Horne stepping in for suspended club-mate Finn Russell at ten.

Horne enters on the back of a man-of-the-match performance for Glasgow last weekend as Gregor Townsend's masterplan continues to march on at Scotstoun. Another of his stars, Tommy Seymour, returns to the Test scene this Saturday in place of Tim Visser, who loses his spot in the 23.

As one might expect, it will be tough early on against the Azzurri as they have proved against Ireland and England thus far in 2015. England were only 18-10 to the good remember after 54 minutes at Twickenham while the Irish held a slender 9-3 lead at the break in their Rome clash. Therefore Scotland must be patient, but if they play to their standard set in November, they should have no trouble running away with this.

Vern Cotter made no secret of his respect for Italy and when announcing his side, he stressed they would not be underestimated on Saturday.

"We're very wary of Italy and feel that they have improved. They are a team that will be targeting this game, so we must be prepared to roll our sleeves up and work very hard to get a result," he said as they look to impress at home. "They are a big, physical team – bigger than us – so we will have to be technically strong and well connected as a group to withstand what will be a strong assault on our defensive line.

But surely he believes that a Scotland team on form will have too much in the tank to be denied at Murrayfield, with that Glasgow midfield set to be vital in breaking the usual Italian resistance. Cotter will know, the sooner that happens the more handsome the result will be.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: We've mentioned him already but Alex Dunbar is fast becoming an integral cog in this Scottish XV. Alongside his club-mate Mark Bennett, this duo are keeping the equally impressive Matt Scott out of the line-up so will always be on their toes. Dunbar is set to give Enrico Bacchin a good working over this weekend while he will look to give Peter Horne as much front-foot ball as he can.

For Italy: He opened the scoring at Twickenham in Round Two and continues to lead by example for the Azzurri. Of course we're talking about Sergio Parisse, who was in the side that last won at Murrayfield back in 2007. In fact, he is the only player in their 23 who featured in that victory and alongside Leonardo Ghiraldini the number eight has to be a rock up front if Italy are to cause an upset.

Head-to-head: Not so much position versus position here but goal-kicker up against goal-kicker as Greig Laidlaw takes on Kelly Haimona. Italy had a 20 percent success rate off the tee last time out Laidlaw was faultless against Wales. If Haimona does not clean up his act at Murrayfield then the Azzurri's hopes of victory decrease dramatically. You simply cannot have that record at Test level.

Recent results:

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
2008: Italy won 23-20 in Rome

Prediction: The hosts will have too much firepower and we expect them to click, despite the loss of Russell. Scotland by 15.

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Peter Horne, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Matt Scott.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Michele Visentin, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Enrico Bacchin, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni.

Date: Saturday, February 28
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Venue: Murrayfield
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)
Assessor: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)

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