Scotland flanker John Hardie has warned against underestimating Italy despite their coach Conor O’Shea naming a largely experimental side for tomorrow’s Test.
Italy’s team features two uncapped players and seven more who have played less than 20 times for their country.
But those numbers perhaps fail to tell the full story given that one of the newcomers is the hugely experienced New Zealander Dean Budd, who qualifies through residency.
The other is Luca Bigi, the hooker who has been seen as next in line for the national team for the past 12 months.
It still amounts to one of the youngest sides seen in international rugby, with an average age of a little over 24 and an average of 19 caps a head. Scrum-half Eduardo Gori is the only Italy player with more than 50.
However, Hardie was paying little attention to the figures as he looks to help Gregor Townsend make a winning start as Scotland coach.
“They are going to be up for the game,” he said. “They have a strong set piece, so we will be on a game there. They also have a new defence coach who might change things and I am sure Conor O’Shea has a few tricks up his sleeve. We will have to be careful and have full respect for them.”
For Hardie, the game is a chance to put a troublesome season behind him after injuries kept him on the sidelines and he could only watch while Hamish Watson took his place and earned rave reviews.
“It is a big opportunity for me and a lot of boys to set their mark on the game,” he added. “I am looking forward to it, looking forward to getting back into action, pushing Hamish and doing my best for the team.
“You can’t take too much for granted, every time I get out on the pitch I will enjoy it and make the most of it. I am looking forward to it, playing with my mates and having fun.”
This week gives Hardie a chance to get to know new forwards coach Dan McFarland who is part of Townsend’s new-look staff.
“Dan has been great, really detailed and with some great ideas,” Hardie said.
“I’m sure they will help. He is not going to wipe what Vern (Cotter) has done but build on it and add his flavour, which is really good.
“He has some great ideas. We are there to execute what he has put in and deliver a performance.”
Scotland: D Taylor; D Hoyland, M Scott, A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell, A Price; A Dell, R Ford, WP Nel, T Swinson, B Toolis, J Barclay (c), J Hardie, J Strauss. Replacements: F Brown, G Reid, Z Fagerson, R Harley, M Bradbury, R Wilson, H Pyrgos, P Horne.
Italy: E Padovani; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, T Boni, L Sarto; T Allan, E Gori (c); A Lovotti, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, D Budd, F Minto, M Mata Mbanda, R Julian Barbieri. Replacements: O Gega, F Zani, P Ceccarelli, A van Schalkwyk, A Steyn, M Violi, C Canna, T Benvenuti.