Scotland kick off their Autumn Nations Cup campaign in Florence against Italy today. Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the big talking points ahead of the Azzurri clash.
Lifting the national mood
Steve Clarke’s football outfit gave the country a huge shot in the arm by qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 22 years on Thursday night as they sealed a place at Euro 2020. Now it is Gregor Townsend’s team’s turn to do their bit to lift the coronavirus gloom even further at the Stadio Artemio Franchi as they look to make it five games unbeaten for only the second time in the professional era.
The loss of Racing 92’s star stand-off Finn Russell and his former Glasgow understudy Adam Hastings to injury during last month’s win in Wales was a big blow to Townsend but their absence gives Worcester’s Duncan Weir his chance to make his first Test start in more than four years. The 29-year-old has been growing his hair for charity in recent months and now sports a huge curly afro – but he will need to make an even bigger impression with his play if he is to stand a chance of keeping the 10 jersey long term.
The Azzurri are again facing calls to be dumped out of the Six Nations amid continuing struggles to hold their own against the world’s top teams. Their championship run of woe now stands at 27 straight defeats stretching back to 2015 and the clamour for promotion and relegation to be introduced is again on the rise. Georgia would be the obvious choice to take the Azzurri’s slot and this month’s new competition – which sees the Lelos facing England, Wales and Ireland in the group stage – could spark a fresh round of discussion on the debate if the Georgians can make a decent fist of it.
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