A Scotland win in Turin would be welcome boost, says Mike Blair

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
Duncan Weir and Richie Gray training in Turin
Scotland duo Duncan Weir and Richie Gray training in Turin
Italy v Scotland
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Turin Date: 22 August Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio Scotland 810 MW and BBC Sport website

Ireland and Italy possess very different styles and threats.

Last week we saw Scotland playing quite an expansive game in the 28-22 loss in Dublin, often hitting the front pod of forwards who then released the backs behind.

This is because on the whole the Irish have a fairly passive outside defence so there are good opportunities to make yards out wide.

This week in Turin, as already mentioned by Vern Cotter, is likely to be a more attritional game with that front pod of forwards more likely to carry ball or tip on to another forward. This is down to the Italians' more aggressive outside defence, who caused the Scots some problems at Murrayfield during the Six Nations.

My heart stopped - Rory Hughes on first Scotland start

I hope that Scotland still take the opportunity to move the ball on occasions, though. Even if you don't make significant yards it is a great tool for manipulating defences in the phases that follow as it means the big Italian forwards have to make decisions rather than continually folding around the corner.

An area where Scotland were completely outplayed last time the teams met was the open-play maul - setting mauls up during phase play. This one tactic pretty much won the game for them so Scotland's defence must expect it and neutralise this threat.

It's a mixed bag of a selection from the Italians. Sergio Parisee and Eduardo Gori are not playing, their two most influential players, so perhaps we will see more of a first team next week where the environment of playing away from home better reflects the World Cup.

I mentioned last week that I thought Scotland's first couple of games were going to be used to solidify thoughts on fringe players and then the last two games would be to get the "run-on" side some game time before the World Cup starts.

With this week's selection I'm even more convinced. We are yet to see the likes of Jonny Gray, Stuart Hogg, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, all of whom were first-choice starters when fit, in recent games.

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter watches his players train at the Stadio Olimpico

So this is one last, and in some cases only, chance for individuals to play their way in, or out, of selection.

Rory Hughes probably grabs the headlines this week, winning his first cap on the wing, as he was even a real bolter to make the original 46-man squad.

He will bring with him aggression, physicality, good communication, confidence and a useful left foot.

He likes to come off his wing and get involved in the game, especially working off the nines so hopefully he has built a good rapport over the past few months with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.

An understanding between players is so important. I've never missed a player so much as when Simon Webster wasn't playing for Edinburgh or Scotland - always an option, reading your body language and playing off you. When I played at Boroughmuir, Ben Fisher was the same - although he was a number eight - tracking your movements and looking for openings.

Stuart Hogg
Players such as full-back Stuart Hogg are likely to come in to the Scotland team in the final World Cup warm-up games

I can't talk about all the team changes but two forwards that require a mention are John Hardie and Stuart McInally.

"Rambo" McInally starts at hooker, his first cap. He was a back row until a couple of years ago and indeed started for Edinburgh in the back row of their European Challenge semi-final last year. He is a special player in the loose; powerful, intelligent and industrious, but his focus will be in the tight.

Set-piece is key and hookers are integral to how these operate. He works hard on his basics and I'm sure this will show through in Turin.

Hardie joined up with the squad midway through preparations but apparently is making himself known by some really impressive showings in training. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does in his first cap.

I think a win is really important. Learning about players is key too but the squad needs some confidence and this weekend is the time.

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