PREVIEW: Italy v Scotland

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 08:04
Large gregor townsend 2017 800

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gregor Townsend faces a tricky start to his reign as Scotland coach against Italy at Singapore's National Stadium on Saturday in the first Test between two top-tier nations in Southeast Asia.

Already without three players on British and Irish Lions duties in New Zealand, as well as losing several others to injuries, Townsend has been forced to make wholesale changes for a match where the conditions could be as hazardous as the opposition.

Although the kick-off has been held back until 20.00 local time (12.00 GMT) to avoid the worst of the tropical heat, Singapore's sweltering humidity could turn the match into survival of the fittest.

One of the most improved teams in international rugby in recent years, the Scots will go into the Test as heavy favourites after trouncing the Azzurri 29-0 in their most recent clash at Murrayfield in March and climbing to fifth in the world rankings.

But Townsend, who took over the national coaching duties from Vern Cotter who transformed the team into an emerging force, is wary about making any predictions after being forced to make nine changes, including six in the pack.

"The players have worked hard over the past few years. They now have the confidence and success has started to come," Townsend said at a news conference in Singapore.

"I'm here to build on that momentum and help the team improve even further. With improving comes winning and I want all the players to reach their full potential and to win more games."

Townsend has awarded a first cap to lock Ben Toolis and recalled tighthead prop Willem Nel and fullback Duncan Taylor for the first time this year after both have battled injuries.

The only forwards remaining from the side that beat Italy in Edinburgh are hooker Ross Ford and skipper John Barclay although Townsend said he expects to make further changes for the forthcoming Tests against Australia and Fiji.

Italy finished at the bottom of this season's Six Nations championship after failing to win a match and coach Conor O'Shea said his team were using their mid-year tour, which also includes Tests against Fiji and the Wallabies, as a springboard for the future after demonstrating what they are capable of when they beat South Africa late last year.

"Our guys don't get all the resources that others do, but we are making fundamental changes for the future and we have just brought in a conditioning coach. Our goal is not to be winning World Cups, it is to change Italian rugby for the future," O'Shea said.

"Scottish rugby has showed that if you make the right changes, you can make rapid strides and catch up very quickly. Our job this weekend is to put a little more pressure on Scotland and take our chances instead of missing them all."

Teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori (captain), 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Andries van Schalkwyk, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Marcello Violi, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.

Scotland: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Ben Toolis, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Gordon Reid, 17 Zander Fagerson, 18 Rob Harley, 19 Magnus Bradbury, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22Pete Horne.

Date: Saturday, June 10
Venue: Singapore
Kick-off: 08.00 (12.00 GMT; 13.00 BST; 14.00 CEST)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Tim Baker (Hong Kong)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)

Agence France-Presse