Scotland v Italy: Everything you need to know
Scotland will hope to give Vern Cotter a fond farewell when he takes charge of his last match in their final 2017 Six Nations contest on Saturday.
There was bitter disappointment for the New Zealander last time out as Scotland saw their championship hopes crumble in a 61-21 demolition at the hands of Calcutta Cup rivals England, whose victory saw them retain the title.
But a bonus-point victory against an Italy side already guaranteed to collect the wooden spoon could see them finish as high as second in the table and would provide a fitting ending for Cotter, who has helped re-establish Scotland as a real force once again in the northern hemisphere, before handing over to Gregor Townsend.
The England defeat aside, Scotland can take plenty of positives from a Six Nations campaign that has yielded fine victories over Ireland and Wales as well as a narrow defeat in France, and Italy face an uphill battle to earn a consolation triumph.
However, Conor O’Shea will be keen to ensure he chalks one up in the win column at the end of his maiden campaign as head coach and the Azzurri have taken a bold approach at times, as showcased by refusing to commit men to rucks in the loss against England.
HEAD TO HEAD
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?
The relief was plain to see for Scotland in Rome 12 months ago as a 36-20 victory ended a run of nine straight Six Nations defeats.
After establishing an early 17-3 lead, Scotland were on the back foot when Leonardo Ghiraldini and Marco Fuser touched down for the hosts, but Greig Laidlaw’s nerveless kicking from the tee and a late Tommy Seymour try secured a much-needed win.
Alex Dunbar (Scotland)
Every Scotland player had a week to forget against England, but Dunbar in particular was out of sorts in the centre. He will be desperate to impress with time running out to earn a place on the British and Irish Lions tour.
George Biagi (Italy)
It has been a familiar story for Italy this year and not even a bonus-point win can prevent them from finishing bottom. But for Biagi, one of four Italy changes, this is a chance to impress against the country of his birth so expect to see the lock go big at the breakdowns.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Ross Ford, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (captain), Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 17, 2017
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Ornel Gega, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Fuser, George Biagi, Maxime Mbanda, Abraham Steyn, Sergio Parisse (captain).
Vern Cotter (Scotland): “No, they’re not allowed to [discuss one last big performance for me]. They’ve got plenty of other things to think about. First and foremost is playing for themselves and the people that support them. We would like to see them put in a great performance they can be proud of.”
Conor O’Shea (Italy): “Now is the time to invest, not only in the national team but also in…the youth academies. They need technical preparations on specific roles, mental coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists, physiatrists, psychologists. Staff of the highest professional level.”
– Scotland have won six of their last seven games against Italy, although their one defeat in that run came at Murrayfield (2015).
– Italy have beaten Scotland eight times overall, more often than they have beaten any other tier-one nation.
– The Azzurri have won just two of 44 away games in the Six Nations, both of those wins coming at Murrayfield.
– Sergio Parisse will make his 60th Six Nations appearance should he feature in this game, equalling Martin Castrogiovanni as the most capped Italian in the competition; only Brian O’Driscoll (65) and Ronan O’Gara (63) will have played more games in the Five/Six Nations.