Scotland v Italy at Murrayfield
Big Vern’s glorious Edinburgh farewell
What we can expect
Six Nations matches between Scotland and Italy have tended to be tight, tense affairs – but this is New Scotland, and they’re bidding farewell to the coach who reinvigorated them. They will want to send him off to Montpellier on a high, with Flower of Scotland ringing in his ears.
Scotland have made just one change from the side that was handed a shellacking at Twickenham last week, with Ross Ford replacing Fraser Brown at hooker. Interestingly – and perhaps slightly worrying – is the fact that Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Ryan Wilson have all been named in the starting lineup despite still going through return-to-play protocols following head injuries.
Matchday 23: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price; 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Ross Ford, 3 Zander Ferguson, 4 Richie Gray, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 John Barclay (c), 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Ryan Wilson. Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell Du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Matt Scott
The last time Italy went to Edinburgh, they won 22-19. But that was back in 2015 – and they have lost 11 Six Nations matches on the bounce since then. It’s almost impossible to see them ending that miserable run this weekend. Conor O’Shea has made four changes from the team that lost against France in Rome last weekend, but at the end of a dismal campaign lightened only by their smart use of the anti-ruck against England, Italy will just want to go home and forget the 2017 Six Nations ever happened.
Matchday 23: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti; 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori; 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Ornel Gega, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 4 Marco Fuser, 5 George Biagi, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 7 Abraham Steyn, 8 Sergio Parisse (c). Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Francesco Minto, 22 Marcello Violi, 23 Luca Sperandio
All eyes on: Vern Cotter
Who else could it be? It’s Stern’s final match in charge of Scotland. He usually watches the game – almost totally impassively – from the coaching nest. Expect to see much the same, but if you look closely, and squint a bit, you may find evidence of a mysterious liquid in the corner of one eye late in the day.
Key battle: The Gray brothers vs Fuser and Biagi
Word is that Toulouse are interested in tempting Jonny Gray away from Glasgow to join brother Richie in the Rose City. And, according to L’Equipe, not even the fact he’s contracted with the Warriors until the end of the 2018 season is a problem. The pair have been brilliant collectively and individually throughout the tournament. It will be fascinating to see how the Italians, including Scottish-born George Biagi cope with the twin threat from the brothers Gray.
Italy aren’t going to spoil the party for the big man who gave Scotland back their pride. Scotland by 23.
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