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Six Nations Preview: Scotland vs Italy

Will Stern's face betray any emotion during his last match in charge of Scotland?

Scotland v Italy at Murrayfield

(Saturday, March 18, 8:30pm HKT)

Big Vern’s glorious Edinburgh farewell

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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

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

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Italy

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.

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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.

Prediction

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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J
Jon 52 minutes ago
Buoyant England travel to New Zealand full of hope but are they walking into an All Blacks ambush?

> New head coach Scott Robertson has kept only forwards coach Jason Ryan and conditioning coach Nic Gill from the previous regime *and so there is little institutional knowledge inherent in the new team.* Shows you what the English know about sport. Isn’t just fantastic that the best rugby team, or brand, on the planet has three brothers playing together? One a bull, the other a dancer, and last a .. boxer? Looks like a boxer bless him. > But Robertson has been working to fix that issue, with senior players and coaches having been regularly meeting to work out how they will operate together both on and off the field to ensure there is strong decision-making and a deep understanding of how the team wants to play. Have they? I would suggest then it is not a case of fixing things, that is not what Razor does. Razor will evolve the relationship between player and coach into a more symbiotic relationship. This wont be a coach that shouts down at his players theyre not doing good enough. I can imagine one of the first key areas he will be implementing is the respective leadership for each coaching group. Tight five, Loosies, Halves, Centers, and Back Three, will each have their own leadership team and an agile approach to the playing group relaying what they believe is happening on the training paddock, and in games. It will be a very big step to get everyone involved, able, and thinking about contributing to that process, but I believe a very beneficial one if successful. > England may have their best chance to win in 21 years, but they may also be walking into an ambush – *about to be hit* by a young, gifted, supremely physical and athletic All Blacks team coached by a man who has made every post a winner so far in his career and has this uncanny knack of getting the best out of people. Or, by a group hurting from not getting over the line and proving to everyone they are the best in the world, full of experience and cohesion, grit and motivation. You only need to look at someone like Patrick Tuipulotu to see someone with a fire under his belly from missing out on the last RWC due to injury, and having lost to this opposition in the previous one. It will be very interesting to see how this ‘Razor’ plays it. Does he stick with the traditional and protect the time honored All Black values of commitment, or does he evolve and pick the best players to win the Rugby Championship - and by association this test series - like Akira Ioane?

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