Scotland vs Italy LIVE: Six Nations build-up and updates from Murrayfield
Scotland host Italy to kick off Super Saturday
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Scotland can lock up third spot in the 2023 Six Nations if they secure a bonus-point win over Italy on home soil at Murrayfield this afternoon.
Scotland’s championship started with such promise as they continued their recent Calcutta Cup domination over England before ending their hoodoo against Wales to head into the first rest week with their grand slam aspirations still alive.
Gregor Townsend then saw his troops slip to back-to-back defeats to France and Ireland, despite decent performances in both games. Victory over Italy would cap a solid Six Nations heading into a daunting World Cup group but a shock loss would undermine a lot of the work they have done to this point.
The Azzurri showed plenty of positive signs in their first three games of this championship but a winnable game against a Wales side in disarray saw them produce a limp display and slip to a frustrating defeat, giving them just one more chance to salvage their Six Nations campaign.
Follow live coverage from the first game on Six Nations Super Saturday below:
Kieran Crowley hopes Italy can replicate Wales win
“I’d like to think so,” the Italy head coach chuckles when asked if his side can repeat their final-day heroics of last year. “It’s a different tournament and a different team. We weren’t good enough last week in our execution. We’ve focussed on that this week.
“We’ve taken the mindset that we’ve got to be a little bit better each week. Hopefully if we The more you get in those positions and the more you succeed in those positions, the better you are. We haven’t had that yet.”
Italy beat Wales in Cardiff last year for a first Six Nations win since 2015
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend speaks to the BBC
“It’s all in the performance today. It is our last game of the Six Nations and we have put a lot of work into this championship to get our best ever performance. That’s what the goal is today.
“We are very wary. They were close to beating Ireland and France, they move the ball from everywhere. They have nothing to lose. At this stage last year they went to Cardiff and played a great game, and won that game. We need to make sure we impose our game on Italy.”
Jamie Ritchie demands big finish as Scotland aim for third place in Six Nations
Jamie Ritchie believes a strong performance against Italy and a third-place finish behind the top two sides in the world will seal a positive Six Nations campaign for Scotland.
Back-to-back defeats by France, ranked second in the world, and the top-ranked Ireland mean Scotland can no longer claim silverware from a tournament that started with wins over England and Wales.
But Ritchie feels there is still plenty at stake going into Saturday’s campaign finale at BT Murrayfield as Gregor Townsend’s side bid to make it three wins out of five and finish third for the first time since 2018.
“I outlined our goal of five good performances and I think we’re at three and a half just now,” said the captain. “To get it up to four and a half would be good so we’re looking for a strong performance. To secure that third place outright would be a positive.”
Jamie Ritchie demands big finish as Scotland aim for third place in Six Nations
The Scots bring the curtain down on their campaign against Italy.
Look to the looseheads
If you were asked to pick out two of the most quietly impressive performers of this Six Nations, then today’s looseheads would probably come quickly to the mind. Both Pierre Schoeman and Danilo Fischetti have stood out in the loose and tight throughout this tournament, continuing to grow their burgeoning international reputations.
They are different sorts of props, Schoeman broader of shoulder with Fischetti more of a bustler, but each possesses plenty of punch in the carry and offers a live breakdown threat. Quietly, the number one shirt is filled by a lot of high quality performers across this championship – Cyril Baille has been back to somewhere near his best in the last couple of weeks, Ellis Genge has led the way in England’s best moments and Andrew Porter has been a cornerstone amid Ireland’s front row chaos.
Simone Gesi gets a shot on the wing
Struggling with Ange Capuozzo withdrawal symptoms? May I introduce you to Simone Gesi, making his international bow for Italy and offering much of the same diminutive danger as his absent potential future back three colleague. The Zebre wing is a couple of inches taller and two years younger than Capuozzo but is explosive and elusive in much the same way, with a fierce fend adding to his threat.
He still has a little way to go defensively and aerially, but Gesi has been carving up defences in the United Rugby Championship this year. His inclusion on the wing is another sign of Kieran Crowley’s commitment to playing an exciting brand of rugby. Italy created plenty of chances against Wales but snatched at them a little, but there is little indication they’ll at all temper their attacking verve.
The key decision for Gregor Townsend this week would have been where best to slot Blair Kinghorn into his side. Townsend likes the Edinburgh man’s potential as an international fly-half, but the 26-year-old was a little disappointing at the position during his autumn opportunities and has been very good off the bench in the back three during this campaign.
Townsend is down three fly-halves, really, with both Adam Hastings and Ross Thompson also currently unavailable, but the Scotland head coach suggested this week he would have had no qualms with starting Ben Healy. Recruiting the Munster fly-half away from the Irish system feels like a bit of a coup for Scottish rugby, with Healy already offering a developed sense of game control. But he has not been in Townsend’s set-up for long, with limited opportunities to run alongside the rest of an impressive backline, so for now it is Kinghorn’s show.
“We’ve seen him train and how well he’s stepped up as first receiver,” Townsend said of his chosen fly-half. “His session last Wednesday, when Finn didn’t train at all, was outstanding. I believe now, with how we are playing, it will suit Blair even more. He has the defence focused on the people outside which will open up opportunities for him.”
The versatile Blair Kinghorn scored a hat-trick from the wing against Italy in 2019 but starts at fly-half today
Team News – Italy
Italy’s worst performance of the Six Nations does prompt some changes from Kieran Crowley, though the New Zealander largely keeps faith with the side that disappointed against Wales. Up front, Marco Riccioni and Edoardo Iachizzi are promoted to start at tighthead and in the second row respectively.
Behind the scrum, there’s a new scrum half in the form of Alessandro Fusco, while the rather exciting Zebre wing Simone Gesi is set to make his debut after an impressive URC season. Another potential debutant is replacement hooker Marco Manredi, while Alessandro Garbisi could form a half-back partnership with elder brother Paolo for the first time this Six Nations if used from the bench.
Italy XV: Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Marco Riccioni; Edoardo Iachizzi, Federico Ruzza; Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (capt.), Lorenzo Cannone; Alessandro Fusco, Paolo Garbisi; Simone Gesi, Tommaso Menoncello, Juan Ignacio Brex, Pierre Bruno; Tommaso Allan.
Replacements: Marco Manfredi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani; Alessandro Garbisi, Luca Morisi.
Team News – Scotland
A long and gruelling tournament has taken a significant toll on the Scottish squad, shorn of three key pillars for this final game. Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Richie Gray all miss this final encounter.
Without Russell and Hogg, a place for Blair Kinghorn in the starting side was a certainty, and it is at fly-half that Gregor Townsend elects to install the long-striding back, who has impressed off the bench throughout this campaign. That allows a place for Ollie Smith in the back three, while Sam Skinner and Hamish Watson start in the forwards.
Edinburgh-bound, Tipperary-born playmaker Ben Healy is primed for a debut off the bench, offering Townsend more of a controlling fly-half option, while Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland and Cameron Redpath return to the fold among the replacements.
Scotland XV: Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Sam Skinner, Jonny Gray; Jamie Ritchie (capt.), Hamish Watson, Jack Dempsey; Ben White, Blair Kinghorn; Duhan van der Merwe, Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones, Kyle Steyn; Ollie Smith.
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson; Ali Price, Ben Healy, Cameron Redpath.
Six Nations Super Saturday: Scotland vs Italy
But we’ll deal with all the title permutations more fully a bit later, because there is rapidly-approaching business to attend to in Edinburgh. After a disappointing showing against Wales, Italy have one last shot at a 2023 Six Nations win, while Scotland will be keen to finish with a flourish and hold on to third spot in the table.
Kick-off is less than 45 minutes away – let’s check in on the two teams…
Jamie Ritchie is ready to lead Scotland as Six Nations Super Saturday begins
Six Nations Super Saturday: Title permutations
An Ireland win will, of course, seal Andy Farrell’s men a championship they would richly deserve, but we do technically still have a title fight on our hands. France’s drubbing of England last weekend, and Ireland’s failure to earn a bonus point at Murrayfield, leaves last year’s winners four points back in the table, ready to pounce on any unlikely Irish slip-up this evening.
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