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Six Nations: Six main points from Scotland’s big changes for the final test against Italy

Blair Kinghorn is back at 10 for Scotland's final Six Nations game against Italy.
Blair Kinghorn is back at 10 for Scotland's final Six Nations game against Italy.

Gregor Townsend has tried to maintain cohesion for his final selection of the 2023 Six Nations, with the enforced changes for key men minimising his urge to experiment.

Only once in nearly 60 games since Stuart Hogg made his debut in 2012 have both he and Finn Russell been absent from a Scotland starting team in the Six Nations – 2019 in Paris.

Blair Kinghorn played at 15 in that game, but has returned to 10 for Saturday’s game against Italy. Ollie Smith gets a run at full-back, while Hamish Watson and Sam Skinner return to the starting line-up in the pack.

Here’s Gregor Townsend’s main thoughts ahead of the game, starting with the obvious choice…

Kinghorn before Ben Healy at 10 this time

“Ben has integrated himself really well with the playing group, he is really part of our squad now which is great to see. On the (training) field he has been outstanding, led a lot of our non-23 sessions and there are a lot of details to take on.

“I have been really impressed with him seeing him close up and his skills set is very good.

“But we believe in Blair. He’s played more game at Test level at ten than Ben.

“He has had a lot of connections with those guys around him in the Test environment. We scored 60 points in the second and third tests in Argentina, and he was one of the best players on the field against Australia in November.

Kinghorn’s confidence still high

“He was disappointed after (Russell’s return in) November,” said Townsend. “The game against Saracens after November tests in London was probably his best performance of the season.

“Blair is playing and training with confidence and the physical side is important. He has had back and quad issues especially when he moved to ten, as training involves more kicking and restarts.

“He took time to adjust but now he is in great physical shape.

“The fact he hasn’t played there (in 2023) doesn’t change things. He has trained in that position and has been covering ten and back three for the last few weeks. He is full of confidence which will help him this weekend.

Sione Tuipulotu’s growing influence will help

Since they were last paired in the Wallaby test in November, the Glasgow centre has become a key man at outside centre. He’s certainly allowed Russell more space and time to dictate, and Kinghorn can also benefit, believes Townsend.

“(Sione) is a better player now, more experienced,” he said. “What he, Huw and the back line do helps the ten knowing we can move the ball to other players and get behind the defensive line.

“Blair has seen that game plan in training and from the bench. He brings his own strengths too.

“We encouraged him in the summer to run with the ball. The experience he has had coming off the bench at 15 will encourage him to run more this weekend.

“Also the confidence of those other guys calling for the ball a lot will mean he doesn’t have to be the one thinking and coming up with solutions all the time.”

Italy were always a challenge, even more so now

“Absolutely there is (a danger for us). Even if we had Richie (Gray), Finn and Stuart playing, this was going to be a tough game.

“If they get their game right, and it’s very ambitious game, you’re on the back foot and conceding linebreaks that can cause you a lot of angst.

“It also means you can concede points. We have to make sure our defence is ready for that threat but also wins the ball back and we get to attack Italy.

“They’re a dangerous team because they’ve nothing to lose. They had a huge build up to that game against Wales, and they maybe lost a little bit of their accuracy.

“Now there’s nothing to lose for them, they took that attitude into Cardiff last year and played an outstanding game.”

‘Nothing but positives’ for Ollie Smith

The Strathallan School FP has had to wait for his chance after scoring in his only home test against Australia.

“Nothing but positives,” said Townsend. “He stepped up in a challenging environment in Argentina, the third Test in a noisy atmosphere for his first cap. He played really well and also against Australia.

“He’s been unlucky that he’s gone up against our most capped player in our squad in Stuart Hogg.

“I feel he’s really added to his game this year at Glasgow as well, very good linking ability. 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 return of Hamish Watson

“Matt (Fagerson) has played every game, so it’s about managing his energy, and we still feel he’ll have a big impact off the bench.

“But also we feel that Hamish has deserved the opportunity to start. We think he can help Jamie a lot with sharing leadership.

“He’s playing with pace and we’ll need pace this weekend in attack and defence.

“He’s still hungry, more than ever. He was really disappointed having to come off early against France and not to be selected last weekend. It was tough for the team (when he came on), but he showed really good attitude.”