Italy will be confident of claiming another Six Nations win against Scotland in Rome.
It's been a tough campaign so far for the Scots, with more than a touch of the bizarre punctuating the brutal and the below par. Two games, zero tries and six points do not make for pleasant reading, and that's before we get to the nitty-gritty of the set piece, the error counts and the tackle statistics.
Scott Johnson's selections and tactics have arguably provided Scottish fans with their greatest source of Six Nations entertainment. The Australian wants to increase the national team's squad depth, and generate more competition for places ahead of next year's World Cup. The idea is laudable, the methodology is problematic. At best, Johnson's rotations are unfair to current form; at worst, they damage the side's chances of winning games, piling on the pressure.
This week, arguably the pick of Scotland's players in rounds one and two, Dave Denton, has been benched, and skipper Kelly Brown is still out in the cold. Hooker Ross Ford needed a rest; he has real problems striking the ball and his throwing has been poor for months at Test level. He must take a hefty share of the set-piece blame, but the fault does not lie exclusively at his door.
The battle up front is certainly one Italy coach Jacques Brunel will be targeting – the Scottish scrum has not exactly proved devastating this season, and the Italians traditionally excel in the tight. Watching Alessandro Zanni, Roberto Barbieri and Sergio Parisse go head-to-head with Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro and Johnnie Beattie at the breakdown will be engrossing and fascinating.
There's also the curious case of Tommy Allan, the former Scotland U20 flyhalf who turns out for the hosts on Saturday after pledging his allegiance to Italy. His duel with baby-faced Duncan Weir is vital – whoever can put his pack in the right areas and kickstart his backline is likely to end up on the winning side.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommy Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Moray Low, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant
Subs: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Al Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Dave Denton, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Max Evans.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP Photo