Townsend names Hogg and Sutherland to face Italians
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend faced the media on Wednesday at BT Murrayfield, ahead of his side’s third match in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
The former Gala ace retained Borders players Stuart Hogg (ex-Hawick) and Rory Sutherland (ex-Gala and Hawick) for the squad to face Italy in Rome on Saturday in the Stadio Olimpico (kick-off 2.15pm GMT / 3.15pm local time) – live on ITV / STV.
The sides go into the round three Guinness Six Nations match smarting from opening round defeats – Scotland succumbing 19-12 to Ireland and 6-13 to England in Dublin and Edinburgh, while Italy’s losses to Wales and France came on the road, meaning this Saturday’s Test is their first of the championship on home soil.
Scotland have won 22 of the 30 Tests between the nations but the odds are more evenly stacked when they meet in Italy, with the contests level on six apiece, thanks to a recent run of four consecutive away wins for the Scots.
Scotland sit two points ahead of the Italians in the table, after they picked up losing bonus points in both previous games.
Townsend was quizzed on his team selection and explained that another Borders player and ex-Hawick favourite, Darcy Graham, hadn’t recovered sufficiently from a knee injury.
“Darcy simply wasn’t ready to play at all, hence why he’s not available for either us or for Edinburgh this weekend,” he explained.
Full back Stuart Hogg unfortunately made a couple of high-visibility mistakes in the earlier matches but Townsend said: “He’s thriving in the role as captain.
“I’ve seen captains who are maybe unsure about when to speak or who think a lot about the role, rather than just focusing on themselves.
“Stuart is one of those who is just speaking naturally. It’s not affecting the way he’s training or playing. He’s working very well with the small leadership group we have now and the group is coming together on the training field now.”
Turning to the game, Townsend said of Italy: “In both previous games, they did really well in attack. They made a fair number of line breaks against Wales. They showed during the second half of that game and the 80 minutes against France that they are a dangerous team.
“Their lineout worked very well, their back row got a lot of carries and they played with a lot of width in their back line.
“We believe it’ll be a different approach to how Italian teams usually turn up against us, which has been more about set-pieces, we have to be wary of the threat of them going wide and offloading.”
Later, he added: “Italy are always a very tough opponent, especially in Rome, where we know they’ll look to play with a huge amount of energy.
“It’s a different Italy team to the one we’ve played in the past. In their opening two games of the championship, they have played with real ambition and width.
“They’ve also selected athletic, ball players who suit this strategy and are comfortable playing at a high tempo. “We are well aware of the threats throughout their team and how their attacking game can cause problems for any defence.”
The Scotland team is:
15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Blair Kinghorn, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 1 Rory Sutherland, 2 Stuart McInally, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Ben Toolis, 5 Scott Cummings, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Magnus Bradbury. Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Meanwhile, three Borders players have been retained by head coach Sean Lineen for the U20s Six Nations game between Italy and Scotland tomorrow (Friday) at Stadio Mirabello, kicking off at 6pm GMT / 7pm local time.
Rory Darge captains the side once again, while Mak Smith and Jacob Henry, his team mates from the Southern Knights – the Borders-wide squad in the FOSROC Super 6 championship – are in the starting XV.
Scotland’s women take on the Italians on Sunday afternoon and the team is due to be announced tomorrow. Ther should hopefully be places once again for the Borders trio of Chloe Rollie (Jedburgh, full back), Lana Skeldon (Hawick, hooker) and Lisa Thomson (Hawick, centre).