Scotland desperate to end Six Nations on high in Italy


Rome (AFP)

Gregor Townsend has overhauled his Scotland side in a last-ditch bid to end their Six Nations campaign on a high against the tournament's perennial whipping boys Italy on Saturday.

Scotland's slim title hopes were extinguished with defeat to Ireland last week but they can propel themselves up the table against Italy after home wins against France and England.

A win would see the Dark Blues move third but they also have a slim chance of grabbing second place depending on other results -- if Wales draw at home to France and England lose to Ireland at Twickenham, Scotland would still need to win by 65 points in Rome to finish runners-up.

"Playing Italy will be a very tough game -- it always has been for any Scotland side," said Townsend, who has made five changes to his side who have struggled away from Murrayfield.

Scotland have lost 17 of their last 19 away games in the Six Nations, apart from wins in Rome in 2014 and 2016, and will be counting on a result.

"If we were to lose the game, we would be pretty disappointed given the efforts we've put into the championship," added Townsend.

A win could also see Scotland finish ahead of England for just the second time since Italy joined the tournament in 2000, and return to the world's top five.

Wing Tommy Seymour returns from injury to replace Blair Kinghorn, while centre Nick Grigg makes his first championship start in place of Pete Horne, whose blunder put Ireland on their way to victory in Dublin.

Hooker Fraser Brown, prop Willem Nel and lock Tim Swinson are all promoted from the bench in place of Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan and Grant Gilchrist.

"I think for us as a team, rounding off this campaign with a victory is really important," said Nel. "We've been working hard behind the scenes and I know the guys who step up can do the job.

"They (Italy) have done well, especially in the pack, so there will be a big contest up front to break down and it'll take a full 80 minutes to win."

- 'Italy never stop believing' -

Pride will again be at stake for bruised Italy who are destined to take the Wooden Spoon for the 13th time no matter what happens in Rome.

But coach Conor O'Shea will be hoping his long-trumpeted breakthrough will come sooner rather than later to break a 16-game losing streak in the competition, and avoid a fourth whitewash in five years.

A defeat by more than seven points would confirm a point-less finish for the third successive championship.

"Our future is now. On Saturday we want to win against Scotland," said O'Shea who has opted for consistency with British-born Gloucester flanker Jack Polledri the only change from last week's loss to Wales.

The 22-year-old, son of Bristol legend Peter Polledri, competes for Italy thanks to an Italian grandmother, and will get his first start.

"For Jake it's a great opportunity, a bit ahead of what we had anticipated, but with the injuries of (Renato) Giammarioli and (Maxime) Mbanda. It's now his turn."

Polledri added: "It's a fantastic project, we're building a team that will soon challenge the big teams, believe me.

"My idol is Sergio Parisse who never stops believing in this Italy."

Captain Parisse will earn his 65th appearance in the Six Nations, to equal the championship record of Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll.

The two sides have met 28 times with Scotland leading 20-8.

In the Six Nations, Scotland beat Italy 29-0 in Edinburgh last year and were 36-20 winners in Rome in 2016.

Italy are without a Six Nations win since their visit to Murrayfield in 2015.