Scotland v Italy: hosts make four changes for Six Nations finale UPDATED

Ollie Smith, Blair Kinghorn, Sam Skinner and Hamish Watson called up to starting XV

Ollie Smith will start at full-back for Scotland against Italy on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ollie Smith will start at full-back for Scotland against Italy on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

OLLIE SMITH (making his Six Nations debut), Blair Kinghorn, Sam Skinner and Hamish Watson have been added to Scotland’s starting XV for their final match of the 2023 Six Nations campaign against Italy on Saturday lunchtime.

Meanwhile, Irish convert Ben Healy is set to make his debut off the bench, which also features Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland and Cam Redpath for the first time in this championship.

Matt Fagerson drops to the bench, while Richie Gray (who popped a rib against Ireland last weekend), Finn Russell (knee injury) and Stuart Hogg (ankle injury) are out of the match-day squad altogether.


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Head coach Gregor Townsend said he had no concerns about returning Blair Kinghorn to the No 10 jersey, where he played five consecutive Test matches for Scotland between Ireland at the end of the last Six Nations and Australia at the start of the Autumn, before Russell’s return to the fold.

“We see Blair [Kinghorn] as a ten who can play a number of positions,” he explained. “It’s his club position, I know he’s had to play in the back three because of injury at Edinburgh but he’s played there [at stand-off] for the last two seasons.

“He played there for us in last year’s Six Nations, three Tests in the summer and was involved in two Tests in the autumn, one he started and one he came off the bench. He’s trained a lot at ten.

“I believe we’ll see a really confident Blair Kinghorn, someone in very good physical shape. He’s shown that in different positions so far this year, but we’re looking forward to him playing at ten. He’s played some really good games for us in the last 12 months in that position.”

Townsend was equally effusive about Smith coming in at full-back.

“He stepped up in a challenging environment in Argentina, that third Test, [which was a] noisy atmosphere for his first cap and he played really well,” he said. “He played very well against Australia in November, and he’s been unlucky that he’s gone up against our most capped player in our squad in Stuart Hogg, so that’s one reason why he’s not been involved.

“I feel he’s really added to his game this year at Glasgow as well, very good linking ability. He’s had to play wing on a couple of occasions. I believe that he’s got that balance now with his running ability – very evasive and very strong – but also able to put people into space. That’s something that will help those around him.”

The coach also played down the loss of Gray on top of Grant Gilchrist being suspended.

“It’s an opportunity for two experienced players in Sam [Skinner] and Jonny [Gray], and with Scott [Cummings] off the bench we’ve got players who have played a minimum 20 caps,” he said. “Jonny’s on 70-odd [76] caps, and I think Sam and Scott will be around 20 to 30 [both have been capped 24 times], so we’re fortunate that we have experienced players to step in, but obviously it’s a test for us that our starting locks at the beginning of this championship are not playing this final game.”

 

Matt Fagerson has been one of Scotland’s most industrious players during this Six Nations, with his 70 tackles more than any other player in the championship, but Townsend believes that Watson at openside and captain Jamie Ritchie returning too blindside is the right fit for this match.

“Obviously Matt has played every game, so it’s about managing his energy, and we still feel he’ll have a big impact off the bench,” said Townsend. “But also we feel that Hamish has deserved the opportunity to start and hopefully this time stay on longer than he did in Paris.

“He’s a really experienced player and we think he can help Jamie a lot with sharing that leadership, but he’s [also] playing with pace and we’ll need pace this weekend in attack and defence.

“He was really disappointed not to be selected last weekend against Ireland, and I felt when he came on he had a good carry and had some defensive work to do. By the time he came on, it was tough for the team to go and win that game, but he showed really good attitude.”

Sione Tuipulotu has been named as vice-captain. “He’s grown as a player,” said Townsend of the Australian-born centre, whose younger brother Mosese is now being linked with a move to Scotland. “He’s shown a real strong defensive side to his game. We always believed he would be a creative player having watched him closely in Australia and Japan. He’s obviously got a very good carrying game, but I think his all-round game now – in defence, attack and kicking – he’s shown he is someone who has worked on his game and thinks a lot about it.

“He’s very well respected from the group, he leads a lot of our defence meetings and talks really well, but he’s also got a big role to play in attack. He was vice-captain when we played Chile in the summer, he’s captained Glasgow, so he’s already had that leadership experience.”

Meanwhile, Italian coach Kieran Crowley has also made four changes to the team he sent out against Wales last weekend for this match.

Simone Gesi will make his debut on the left wing with Edoardo Padovani missing out, Alessandro Fusco is promoted from the bench to starting scrum-half in place of Stephen Varney,  Marco Riccioni comes in at tight-head prop and Edoardo Iachizzi is added to the second-row.

Former Edinburgh man Pietro Ceccarelli is the replacement  tighthead. The other bench changes are the uncapped Marco Manfredi covering hooker ahead of Luca Bigi, and Alessandro Garbisi covering scrum-half.

 

Scotland (v Italy at Marrayfield, in Edinburgh, Saturday @ 12.30pm): O Smith; K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Skinner, J Gray (VC), J Ritchie©, H Watson, J Dempsey. Substitutes: E Ashman, R Sutherland, W Nel, S Cummings, M Fagerson, A Price, B Healy, C Redpath.

Italy: T Allan; P Bruno, J Brex, T Menoncello, S Gesi; P Garbisi, A Fusco; D Fischetti, G Nicotera, M Riccioni, E Iachizzi, F Ruzza, S Negri, M Lamaro©, L Cannone. Substitutes: M Manfredi, F Zani, P Ceccarelli, N Cannone, G Pettinelli, M Zuliani, A Garbisi, L Morisi.


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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

61 Comments

  1. Best 23 available given the absentees. My only serious concern is goalkicking. BK tends to blow hot and cold. Let’s hope all the numerous tries we’re going to run in are under the posts. Looking forward to a good win and 3rd place. Which will be above England and about right given the standard France and Ireland have set.

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  2. Well – many can quibble – but it’s about the best side we could expect.

    Let’s hope for a great game tomorrow, looks like the weather might hold. I reckon that if we can replicate the lack of errors / penalties, defend like we have, and the attack line flows ( !!) in the last 4 games we should have this one ….. GO ON SCOTLAND !!!

  3. Reasonable enough squad for the game. Shows where our weaknesses are in the scotland camp though- has to be a couple of talented props in the pipeline or we will struggle, and one of Thompson, Savala or Jordan need to put their hand up for international selection, so Kinghorn can compete with Smith at 15 for depth there. Another point for me, we don’t seem to be blooding many young players into this squad in general, should that be a concern?

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    • there is a RWC in September. We build for that and have only a few games left. Now is the time to consolidate on the best squad not to blood kids (unless we are very unlucky with injuries and there is an outstanding prodigy waiting in the wings)
      We should look forward at the start of the next RWC cycle to moving on
      And finishing 3rd rather than 4th is worth an extra £0.5M. Funding we need

  4. Hope the guys do well. Love the new bench I think 16,17 and 18 are the right choice and it will be interesting to see Redpath and Healy.
    Lets get a bonus point win and Murrayfield lets make it a huge end to the 6N for Scotland.

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  5. Plenty of positivity here… this is exactly the scenario GT has planned for … a day when Finn and Adam are injured and we need our number 3 fly half and we have BK ready … yes would have been nice to have Healy with some game time, and nice if operation Fin Smith or JvdW had worked … but at least BK has driven the bus in the last 6 months … also good that with our first choice 2nd row we have Skinner and JG with 20 plus caps each, also back row choices all have caps too … shame is that Olly Smith should have a few more caps .. looking forward to the match

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    • I wouldn’t necessarily say that Operation Fin Smith has run its course. There are a few lads that have run out for Scotland having been picked in training squads for England previously. That said, if Ross Thompson can get back on track at Glasgow, and Tom Jordan is a year away from qualifying we should have enough options…

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  6. To me it is unbelievable that we have supporters in the comments griping about players who haven’t even been picked.

    You are part of the team! Or you should be.

    The players go and do the business on the pitch but they are the peak of a pyramid that includes all of us!

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  7. Considering we are probably going to need a 6-2 split against Ireland and SA. Giving our Bench Utility player Kinghorn gametime at 10 is no bad thing up until the end of the WC. This extra experience could make the difference with 10-15 minutes to go should Russell get injured.

    Pretty Handy to have for the easy games also.

    He will never be good enough in that position to start against top 4, but against tier 2 nations such as Italy and Wales he meets the standard and his running game will cause a ton of problems

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  8. I’m glad that players won’t have the NEGATIVE mindset of so many contributors here.
    You can bet that Scotland will be taking the field full of controlled confidence. Get the Talians to defend behind their line and close down their counterattack. We have the forwards to get the ball. Let’s leave the rest to our attacking backs mix it up and get the Italians on the back foot right away- and keep them there.

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    • You wouldn’t expect positivity, innovation or alternative ideas here. The dinosaur is well and truly alive 😂🐻

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      • Its fair to say there are a myriad of alternative ideas here. Every contributor has his own views on selection and capabilities. Not surprisingly that is the purpose of a contributors forum, equally not surprisingly views vary dramatically. Blind positivity, not so much, realistic expectations tinged with glass half empty more so. Its the Scottish way although perhaps it would be less so if we had a coach who engendered positive enthusiasm through his selections based on form and continuity.

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  9. Give Blair Kinghorn a break. There is a lot of criticism of the guy on this thread and we haven’t actually played the match yet. He’s a regular part of the squad and he has been selected to play at stand-off. Yes I know many of us would prefer him at full back but the choice has been made so lets get behind him and the team.

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    • Agree with this Ross.
      Firstly I dont think Kinghorn is ‘the answer’ at 10 but he can slot in there and do a job against some opposition and Italy at home he should be ok. From memory he was excellent in one of the tests last summer in Argentina and actually also played very well at home to Oz in the autumn. I do think his position is FB or winger but he is not as utterly disasterous at fly half as some want to paint him either.

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  10. I think Townsend is right not to start Healy. It’s predictable that people are whingeing about it, but really?

    He’s only come into the Scotland set up this 6N and he plays a very different game from Finn Russell.

    He also wasn’t the established starter at Munster, who usually picked Carbery.
    If Healy had switched to Edinburgh in the Autumn and established himself as their starting 10 things might be different, but that isn’t the case.

    If Hastings was available he’d probably also be picked, but he isn’t.

    So we’ve got to work with what we’ve got and we know Kinghorn can do a job as an attacking fly half no matter what other rough edges he has in that position.

    Healy will get time off the bench and that’s the right way to manage him imo.

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  11. Right we now have the bench we mostly should have had last week but now poor choice has manifested itself to the starting 15. BK should possibly start at full back but not at 10, the best centres in the competition will now get poor slow ball to work with and Mish I’m sorry to say has been ineffectual this campaign due to injury recovery. Poor positional and form choices from GT and do we get to borrow Josh van der Flier to kick at goal?

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  12. Lads,let’s just look forward to a good open game,which I think it will be.
    Just remember we have the hoodoo on England.
    Speedy recovery to all our injured players,and good luck to all the boys on Saturday.

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  13. Lads,let’s just look forward to a good open game,which I think it will be.
    Just remember we have the hoodoo on England.
    Speedy recovery to all our injured players,and good luck to all the boys on Saturday.

  14. Lads,let’s just look forward to a good open game,which I think it will be.
    Just remember we have the hoodoo on England.
    Speedy recovery to all our injured players,and good luck to all the boys on Saturday.

  15. Bench looks good although Price has done nothing to keep his place, we were never winning when he came on v Ireland whereas Horne has looked sharp all season and is the first choice pick over Price at Glasgow. Good to see Smith at 15 too. Richie Gray will be a big miss, he has been awesome this 6N.

    What does Townsend sees in BK at 10? He must be watching different games/performances from me. BK is a decent broken field runner against weaker opponents but in attack he provides no control, has no kicking options and his passing is a total lottery, how many other “international” 10s throw so many grounded passes!? The less said about his defence for a 6’4″ lump the better. It seems a bit unfair to keep trying him at 10 when he is patently not up to it, if talented wingers/FBs like Chris Paterson could not make the switch to international 10 I fail to see how BK can do it. We don’t want harem-scarem rugby v Italy which is what they thrive on but a clinical professional performance with kicks at the posts from penalties (who is our goal kicker in this team). Healy would be the better option for me, he’s an actual 10 and has been in camp for long enough to know the systems and is a proven goal kicker, BK can come on if the game breaks up or a change in tactics is needed. I just hope Italy don’t get a foothold in this game or we could be in a bit of bother.

    Be great to finish on a high and for BK to prove me wrong.

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  16. We are where we are due to injuries in certain key positions.Townsend has nailed his colours to the mast re Kinghorn as backup 10 so the selection was obvious. On a positive glad to see he has retained Dempsey and brought in Skinner and Redpath Ashaman and Nel on the bench. On a slightly less positive vein J. Gray and Watson should be nowhere near the starting line up on current form. What has Crosbie done to upset Townsend he cant even make the bench. As equally baffling is Price on the bench in place of Horne. Despite the enforced changes and Townsends continued disorientated selection I think we will win comfortably.

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  17. We really shouldn’t be surprised by the selection of BK and Ollie. It was odds on imo. For me the line out now becomes a little concerning. Gray the younger is out of form and Skinner is a big back rower. I can see a lot of throws (hopefully straight) to Ritchie and Dempsey. I hope I’m wrong. Need a 5 point win to finish the comp and get some sort of optimism for the RWC where we have been stuffed by a dreadful draw process.

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  18. No surprises in the starting selection, but with both first choice second rows absent perhaps Italy will look for weaknesses there. RG in particular will be a miss, as dependable on our own throw and a real threat to the opposition throw both in defence and attack. We’ll need to be smart on the touch line, but Dempsey should help restore some required carrying aggression. Skinner has been playing well recently for Edinburgh, hopefully he can replicate that form.
    Good to see WP back to shore up the scrum, if/when needed, though perhaps with less mobility than Berghan should we want to speed things up – which is what the rest of the team look able to do.
    Italy have improved, but are still prone to too many errors, Scotland look set up to take advantage and if they can keep the set piece tidy will believe they can win well.
    It’ll be interesting to see Healy get some minutes, it would have been a big step from Munster 2/3rd choice to play test rugby with guys he’s never played with before. After all if it is tight, our main weakness appears to be a recognised kicker, though Kinghorn has improved in the last year. (Perhaps something that might have seen Horne make the bench – let’s hope it does not come down to that)

    • Was your post offensive? If so, it will have been rejected. If it wasn’t then it may have got held up in the filter for a short period before the moderator gets to it. You’ve had three comments published on this thread so I really don’t think you are the target of a personal attack.

  19. I suppose not surprising that Kinghorn starts at 10 but could make things incredibly nerve-wracking. Would like Crosbie starting over Mish and Horne on the bench. Would be good to get Healy capped and thought I would like McDowall on the bench, also happy that Redpath is there. Got to get line out firing again and make sure we secure the restarts – something we’ve been saying for some time and a real concern we’re back saying it again after some recent progress. Hope Sutherland and Ashman have some time to prove they should be in the squad permanently, we need to develop our front row depth rather than persisting with players who either aren’t in form or who have lost their edge.
    In some ways I’m glad we’re having to look at other players but also scary at the same time. Really need reliable quick ball at the breakdown and make sure we use the talented back line. A slug-fest up front could drag us down.

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  20. Despite his lack of recent game time – which probably counted against him – my preference would still have been Healey 10, Kinghorn 15 to start because Oor Blair is not an international goalkicker by some distance and an even wider margin. We can’t say ‘It’s only Italy’ these days, but I am relieved that we weren’t in this position against the French or Irish. Thrilled that Smith is getting his chance at full back – solid, reliable and at just 22 definitely one for the future – while Redpath adds an exciting playmaking option in reserve. The bench is otherwise reassuring and thank the Lord Ashman has at long last been brought in to replace Brown. Also great to see Sutherlands back in the picture and Nel ready to do his stuff in the latter stages. A replacement front row we can rely on. Healey I still want to see doing his stuff. Rudely dismissed by some less informed Scottish fans as ‘third choice’ for his club, but highly rated by the Irish lads who know a lot better than that. Harsh on Fagerson Junior to get sidelined, for overall he has been one of the standout players of the tournament.

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  21. If one player is deserving of the Captain’s armband for me there is only real candidate, and that is Pierre. Head and shoulders above everyone, but for obvious reasons it won’t happen.

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  22. Ashman Skinner Redpath n Smith coming in all make sense….Horne being overlooked again just doesn’t. No coincidence that we won with him and lost without him. It’s a shocking way to treat a player who is in excellent form.

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    • And Horne kicks goals. Mind you he was on the pitch when BK missed that goal to beat Australia!

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  23. Kinghorn at 10. Only a fool keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

    BK is not a 10 in the test match sense. The URC is a different matter.

    We could very well be on the end of a defeat on Saturday if we are not careful.

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    • If Hastings or even Thompson was available and in any kind of form or if Healy had had 10 starts for Edinburgh and had an impact on their inconsistent URC campaign then it’s likely Blair would be at fullback and one of these 3 starting at 10.

      That is not the case however, no matter how much you may wish it.

      Blair Kinghorn is unlikely to control a game with precision kicking from fly half, but we know he’s a threat coming to the line and that’s how we’re going to play.

      So he starts.

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  24. My preference would have been Healey 10, Kinghorn 15 to start because Oor Blair is not an international goalkicker by some distance and an even wider margin. We can’t say ‘It’s only Italy’ these days, but I am relieved that we weren’t in this position against the French or Irish. Would have preferred Cummings to Skinner, but that is not such a biggie. Thrilled that Smith is getting his chance at full back – solid, reliable and at just 22 definitely one for the future – while Redpath adds an exciting playmaking option in reserve. The bench is otherwise reassuring and thank the Lord Ashman has at long last been brought in to replace Brown. Also great to see Sutherlands back in the picture and Nel ready to do his stuff in the latter stages. A replacement front row we can rely on. Healey I still want to see doing his stuff. Rudely dismissed by some less informed Scottish fans as ‘third choice’ for his club, but highly rated by the Irish lads who know a lot better than that. Harsh on Fagerson Junior to get sidelined, for overall he has been one of the standout players of the tournament. George Horne will also be chomping at the bit not to be included in the 23 – a lot faster than Price and he can kick goals too – but that was always going to be on Toony’s cards. Probably the most predictable weekend of the Six Nations, at least I sincerely hope so

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  25. Ok assuming England lose to Ireland then we are 3rd on points win lose or draw. However if England squeeze a point we need to beat Italy end of. That said considering the team injuries, it’s not a bad team. The Smith & Kinghorn was probably the best option in the absence of Finn and Hastings. Interesting to see the new bench front row with Ashman, and Sutherland who must short a bit match time. Glad he left the back’s ok with Smith in there and Kinghorn with a bit of mobility at 10 it’s the best we could do. He was never really going to drop in Healy to start. Interesting to see Redpath off the bench also. I can see why he dropped Matt Fagerson to the bench he is better at 8 and Dempsey has done little wrong, not sure about Watson though , he is not the man he was. I agree with other posters about Horne , to me he is our best 9 option and he is a way better kicking option than Kinghorn.

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  26. I think picking Healy who is highly rated but doesn’t usually start for Munster to start in this game was always going to be a longshot.

    Great that he’s on the bench.

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  27. Frankly – and I say this with a heavy heart – it’s time Hogg retired. Apparently his knees are shot, and can only train every other day.
    He was our first truly great player of the professional era, and virtually singlehandedly kick-started the journey that has led us to where we are now. He’ll always be one of the greatest for that (and his scoring record).
    That said, his passing and tendancy to try to do every himself were always issues, but more than balanced by his incredible pace and elusiveness. Both of the latter are gone now, and he is being carried by the rest of the team. Time for new blood (however sad that reality may be).

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  28. I agree Ritchie should have moved our tallest jumper to no 2 in line-outbut also surely the coaches should also have seen a rookie line out was throwing in.

  29. The biggest miss will be the man who has had the biggest influence in our performances of recent and that is Ritchie Gray. He has offered us lineout security and allowed us to play with innovation. Saturday will be a tough ask and any type of win will do me.

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  30. Frankly – and I say this with a heavy heart – it’s time Hogg retired. Apparently his knees are shot, and can only train every other day.

    He was our first truly great player of the professional era, and virtually singlehandedly kick-started the journey that has led us to where we are now. He’ll always be one of the greatest for that (and his scoring record).

    That said, his passing and tendancy to try to do every himself were always issues, but more than balanced by his incredible pace and elusiveness. Both of the latter are gone now, and he is being carried by the rest of the team. Time for new blood (however sad that reality may be).

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  31. Frankly – and I say this with a heavy heart – it’s time Hogg retired. Apparently his knees are shot, and can only train every other day.

    He was our first truly great player of the professional era, and virtually singlehandedly kick-started the journey that has led us to where we are now. He’ll always be one of the greatest for that (and his scoring record).

    That said, his passing and tendancy to try to do every himself were always issues, but more than balanced by his incredible pace and elusiveness. Both of the latter are gone now, and he is being carried by the rest of the team. Time for new blood (however sad that reality may be).

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  32. We will do well to finish 3rd behind Ireland and France missing the bonus against France could be a feature: don’t see us getting a 5 pointer as I don’t think it will be a particularly easy day at the ‘Office’.
    It goes without saying Italy will be desperate to take the spoils especially as they didn’t turn up for the Welsh fixture but they have improved.
    This should be a win providing we don’t offer up possession at Start/Re-starts, Ritchie uses diplomacy, and we have an answer to the bombardment that will be coming the way of Smith and VdM.
    Good luck to Kinghorn, the pressure on him will be physical as well as mental, and good luck to the lads, just a pity George Horne isn’t one of them and the mystery of WP Nel reappearing, sometimes I think Mr. T’s selection process would make an excellent Dissertation.

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    • a bombardment would mean a complete switch of tactics by Italy to a style Crowley has openly criticised. Not saying its not possible but it is very unlikely.
      Garbisi will kick for territory for sure, Varney’s box kicking is really poor.
      I’d be much more worried about slowing their ball as their attack is similar to ours and thrives on fast ball

      • and I no sooner post the above and Italy announce they have dropped Varney and promoted Fusco. Bad news for us. Fusco is very good. George Horne fans will love him

  33. Frankly – and I say this with a heavy heart – it’s time Hogg retired. Apparently his knees are shot, and can only train every other day.

    He was our first truly great player of the professional era, and virtually singlehandedly kick-started the journey that has led us to where we are now. He’ll always be one of the greatest for that (and his scoring record).

    That said, his passing and tendancy to try to do every himself were always issues, but more than balanced by his incredible pace and elusiveness. Both of the latter are gone now, and he is being carried by the rest of the team. Time for new blood (however sad that reality may be).

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  34. No surprise Kinghorn at 10 in the circumstances, although I really hope that Healy gets a decent stint. Great to see Smith start, Ashman on bench, but gotta say whatever Price has in the Toonie bank it must be unspeakable – I just don’t see what Price brings anymore. I kinda get it if he is on form and starts but he’s neither of those and he certainly doesn’t bring any speed to the game from the bench – just does ma heid in, and Horne must wonder whether he should be looking for an English bloodline….

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  35. Glad to see the abysmal Brown, Bhatti and Berghan – The Less-than-Killer Bees (great, I coined it 😂!) are jettisoned. But seriously, what does Price have on Toonie? He’s 3rd choice at Glasgow for goodness sakes!
    Aside from that, pretty happy. Hopefully Kinghorn gets the backline going, and Healy and Redpath get a good run out.

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      • I agree with this. A lot of criticism when the game hasn’t even been played yet.

        Let’s not forget as well that the changes to the scrum…Brown et Al…in Paris, improved the team and almost gave us the win.

        Let’s get behind the lads on Saturday and finish up with a 5 point win.

      • I think we can picture the kind of person who sits typing comments like the one above. Such people merit complete indifference or, if you’re a Christian soul, maybe pity

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  36. Not happy with Kinghorn at 10, but it’s hardly a shock in the circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see what Healy has to offer, if he gets a run.

    I am concerned by Ritchie’s lack of composure in last weekend’s game and our rudderless performance in the later stages, but perhaps the changes/imporvements to the bench will help to address that, despite the continued and unexplained absence of Horne.

    Let’s end this championship on a high.

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