Scotland v Italy preview: The hosts to triumph over experimental Italy

Scotland's Rory Darge with ball in hand against Italy. Credit: Alamy

Scotland’s Rory Darge with ball in hand against Italy. Credit: Alamy

Just like that, rugby union has entered one of the most fascinating periods as the best teams across the globe start to ramp up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup which begins in less than 50 days.

Early warm-up matches such as this clash are an interesting watch as these sides know each other so well from facing each other every year in the Six Nations. However, with nothing at stake apart from the progression of the team, coaches have more of a licence to roll the dice.

That’s exactly what both coaches have done, making several changes and offering up a platform for players on the fringes to make a charge and book their tickets to France.

The players themselves are wise to it and will want to stamp their mark on the Test making for an intriguing prospect on the hallowed turf of Murrayfield.

Where the game will be won

The way the modern game is it means that more often than not the battle that counts is up front. Looking at both sides, the quality in the backline is obvious but one gets the feeling the hosts could have the edge up front and in the set-piece.

The Scottish pack selected shows the sneaky depth they have as it is filled with strong players and they will be looking to leverage the game against the more inexperienced Italian forwards.

The Azzurri will be desperate to avoid giving the hosts a good platform to work as the Scottish backline looks really balanced and has great potential even without some of their finest players.

However, if the Italians achieve parity it could be difficult for the Scots as the Azzurri will be bold and take the game to the hosts. They will do that regardless but if they have the platform it could be hard to handle. Bravery and courage will certainly not be lacking in Italian blue this weekend.

Last time they met

What they said

Gregor Townsend admits he was surprised with Stuart Hogg’s retirement but sees it as a chance for Ollie Smith and Blair Kinghorn.

“It was a surprise to me because he had trained with us at the beginning of the camp,” said Townsend. “I have got to credit what he has done for Scottish rugby and for letting us know at that time so we can move forward to the Tests.

“With Ollie starting this weekend and Blair on the bench covering both 10 and 15, they’ll get more opportunities than they might have if Stuart had still been in the squad.”

Italy boss Kieran Crowley is excited to get going ahead of the World Cup which is only around the corner.

“The match against Scotland represents an important first step towards the Rugby World Cup.

“Many players will have the opportunity to play in a high-level test showing their skills to enter the squad for the World Cup. It will also be a time to evaluate the first part of preparation for the next matches,” added Crowley.

Players to watch

The pocket rocket Darcy Graham has been fairly unlucky with injury over the last while which opened the door for the rise of Kyle Steyn in the Test set-up alongside Duhan van der Merwe. The massive winger is certain to start and this Test for Graham is a chance for the hot-stepper to force his way up the pecking order. He is truly electric and his elusive running means he is always a try-threat as he will be yet again this weekend. Expect the wing to be back to his dancing best on Saturday.

Stafford McDowall is set to make his Test debut and it is well deserved. The Glasgow star has shown he has the quality to be at the highest level and is lucky enough to play with the two incumbent centres ‘Huwipulotu’ (Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu) at club level where he will have learnt a lot from the pair. It is a massive chance for McDowall to stake a claim for a seat to France. His running power and impressive lines will be on display this weekend.

It is a massive moment for Rory Darge who will captain his country for the first time. He is a top-quality flanker, a typical hard worker on both sides of the ball with exceptional breakdown prowess. The perfect kind of player to lead through example. Expect Darge to be absolutely everywhere whether it is a lung-busting run, a crucial tackle or a timely turnover. It’s a clever decision to let him lead the side and a very exciting one at that.

One of the two debutants for Italy is Lorenzo Pani who is one of the top products of the ever-improving young structures in the country. He was a star in the 2022 U20 Six Nations and has quietly gone about some impressive work for Zebre last season. He has pace and a plethora of skills with that flair-filled cheekiness to match. A great prospect and it will be interesting to see how he goes at Test level.

Monty Ioane may have made the move back to Australia but remains a key player for Italy. He would have benefitted from being back in Super Rugby Pacific and had a productive season in a misfiring Rebels side. He is one of the stars who provide the Azzurri with X-factor with ball in hand and coach Kieran Crowley will be expecting that of him again.

It is a lovely moment for Federico Ruzza in this fixture as he captains Italy for the first time and deservedly so. Playing flank this week, Ruzza is a proper workhorse and one who will always empty the tank. He is physical in the carry and on defence whilst also being a big option at line-out time. The Italian has a fair amount of experience now and is a great option to captain his side.

Main head-to-head

This week’s battle will be brilliant to watch between two established players who are complete in their own right and they are stars who will have a massive influence on the game. Its the battle of the fly-halves.

Ben Healy was once touted to be a great Irish player but that has changed after he switched allegiance in search of Test rugby. The Scot is very polished in most of what he does, especially his kicking game which is very solid. His distribution is usually crisp as well. The bottom line is that Healy won’t give you the attacking flair of a Finn Russell but he will be extremely solid and make few mistakes whilst being accurate from the tee. It is his first Test start and a big opportunity to book his ticket. Gregor Townsend will hope he fires giving the coach two different options at 10.

Meanwhile, Italy’s Tommaso Allan is a fairly established Test player but is not the first-choice fly-half. The Harlequin has much less attacking prowess than Paolo Garbisi but is fairly consistent with the boot and in distribution. His decision-making is usually sound. However, he is not the most natural fit for Crowley’s bold ‘take the game to the opponents’ style. That being said he is a probable pick for the World Cup and could play an important role and it would do him great to start the build-up with a bang.

Prediction

It is an interesting one to call with all the changes and plenty of newer combinations. However, for us Scotland has more to lean on than Italy. Couple that with the home advantage and Scotland wins by 12 points.

Previous results

2023: Scotland won 26-14 in Edinburgh

2022: Scotland won 33-22 in Rome

2021: Scotland won 52-10 in Edinburgh

2020: Scotland won 28-17 in Florence

2020: Scotland won 17-0 in Rome

2019: Scotland won 33-20 in Edinburgh

2018: Scotland won 29-27 in Rome

2017: Scotland won 34-13 in Singapore

Teams

Scotland: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Kyle Steyn, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Rory Darge (c), 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Murphy Walker, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland

Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Cameron Henderson, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Cameron Redpath

Italy: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Monty Ioane, 10

Tommaso Allan, 9 Martin Page-Relo, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Federico Ruzza (c), 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Epalahame Faiva, 1 Federico Zani

Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Filippo Alongi, 19 Edoardo Iachizzi, 20 Lorenzo Cannone, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Giacomo Da Re, 23 Federico Mori

Date: Saturday, July 29

Venue: Murrayfield Stadium

Kick-off: 15.15 local (14.15 GMT)

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Adam Leal (England)

TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

READ MORE: 11 timely returns from injury to make the Rugby World Cup

The article Scotland v Italy preview: The hosts to triumph over experimental Italy appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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