Scotland vs Italy: Five talking points ahead of Six Nations clash in Edinburgh
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 02/02/19 8:54am
Five talking points as Scotland welcome Italy to Murrayfield in the first round of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations...
The Scots have not won the tournament since Italy joined in 2000, a year after Gregor Townsend helped Scotland to glory in the Five Nations.
Townsend is now in charge of a team who have made strides by winning three games in each of the past two years - having only won three in total in the previous three years combined.
Can Scotland get their 2019 campaign underway with a victory? Here are the major talking points...
Hogg: We can win Six Nations
Stuart Hogg believes Scotland are on the verge of an "incredibly special" achievement, and says they are not just thinking about beating Italy, but winning the whole tournament.
"I think we are on the right path to achieve something incredibly special," the Glasgow player said.
"We have been working really, really hard over the last few years to get to where we are and we truly believe we can win the Six Nations.
"But for us as players we are just looking at the first game against Italy on Saturday and making sure we get off to the best possible start."
Hogg has twice won the Six Nations player of the tournament award and Scottish clubs have also been buoyed by success in Europe, with both Glasgow and Edinburgh reaching the last eight of the Champions Cup.
Assistant coach Matt Taylor said: "We have talked about it just about every day in training. We have talked about we want to be the first Scottish team to win the Six Nations title.
"It starts Saturday, we have two home games, and I think that's a really good start to a tournament, isn't it? We have talked about it and that's our aim."
'Townsend must curtail Russell'
Jim Telfer joined Will Greenwood and Rupert Cox on the Will Greenwood Podcast: Six Nations Preview Show to look ahead to Scotland's campaign.
Telfer first touched on the qualities of Townsend as a head coach and the leader of the national side. He hailed the 'intelligent and perceptive young man' and praised his 'forward thinking' as a player and now as a coach.
Telfer, who delivered the famous Lions Everest speech, then furthered his analysis by looking at player specifics notably Scotland's fly-half Finn Russell.
"The one thing I would ask him to probably look at is to try to curtail some of the things that Finn Russell does, and try to get him to play a steadier game sometimes," commented Telfer about the international player.
"He does things pre-determined sometimes; he's going to do this and he does it whether the situation is right for him or not. I think he's a very good player, and he's not at his best yet Finn Russell, but maybe a word of caution to Gregor to have some stability in the way we play.
"We're not there just to entertain, international rugby is about winning and the nitty-gritty has to be sometimes done. That's the only thing I would hold against Gregor at the moment."
Whether such a conversation needs to be had between Townsend and Russell is likely to be a topic of considerable debate as this game, and this Six Nations tournament, approaches.
LISTEN: Will Greenwood's Podcast
Jim Telfer, Jamie Roberts and Alex Gray joined Will Greenwood and Rupert Cox on this week's podcast ahead of the opening round of the Six Nations.
Parisse wants winning finish
Italy captain Sergio Parisse could be playing in his last Six Nations. The No 8, who made his Italy debut in 2002, is the longest-serving national captain in rugby history.
On Saturday afternoon he'll be setting a new Six Nations record - running out for his 66th tournament appearance - and as a result will eclipse Brian O'Driscoll's previous total of 65. The question as to whether this will be his last Six Nations remains slightly open...
"Maybe, maybe this is my last year, but I still have a lot of energy," said Parisse at the tournament's launch day.
"Conor O'Shea arrived with a lot of energy, with the idea not just to be the coach of the Italian team but to be the director of rugby in Italy."
Parisse speaks passionately of his friendship with O'Shea and hopes the pair can continue to work together for the benefit of Italian rugby after he stops playing.
"I want to leave a legacy and give to Italian rugby a lot of things on the field, but work with Conor in the background to try and help players in Italy improve," he added.
Italy have lost 10 out of 10 Six Nations matches under O'Shea but Parisse is hopeful they can reverse that trend when he leads the side out at Murrayfield.
"It's going to be a crucial first performance. We want to achieve results," the No 8 said.
Over the past 18 months Italy have beaten the likes of Fiji, Japan and Georgia but the world's best have continued to trouble them. Can Parisse's side make considerable waves this year? Only time will tell...
Stuart Barnes' Six Nations preview
Stuart Barnes assesses the hopes and fortunes of each team in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations ahead of this weekend's opening round.
McInally warns against complacency
Scotland stand no chance of ending their long wait for Guinness Six Nations glory if they do not take care of Italy in Saturday's opener, hooker Stuart McInally has warned.
Scotland have won their last six meetings with Italy, therefore it would be understandable if some in Townsend's squad allowed their minds to look past O'Shea's side and onto their showdown with Ireland the weekend after.
Such complacency, however, could risk a repeat of the Italians' 2015 win in Edinburgh and hooker McInally knows that the consequences would be disastrous.
"It's exciting that we get to start the championship at home," said the hooker. "But we're not taking it lightly - we know we'll need to be at our best.
"There's no chance of minds wandering to the Ireland game. It's all on this game because if we don't get this right we don't stand a chance for the rest of the tournament.
"You can't look past week one and that's something Greig [Laidlaw, captain] and Gregor have spoken about a lot this week. We're playing Italy and that's all we're thinking about."
The Azzurri pushed their hosts on Saturday all the way last year, eventually losing 29-27, and both of Scotland's domestic sides are well-versed when it comes to Italian rivals.
Edinburgh lost to Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in October while Glasgow were defeated by Benetton Treviso in Round 13 of the PRO14.
Memories of last year, added to their recent domestic results, should provide ample reminders of the need for Scotland to focus on the here and now.