Gregor Townsend is keen to see if Stuart Hogg can make the most of his “world class” full-back skills in Scotland’s number 10 jersey.
Russell sustained a concussion during last week’s defeat to Ireland at Murrayfield and despite having Edinburgh’s Jaco Van Der Walt available, Townsend has decided to push Hogg – one of the world’s most dangerous running full-backs – forward to spearhead the Dark Blues attack against the Azzurri.
Hogg has previously stepped up the field to take on the playmaking duties for Scotland within games – including last week’s defeat to the Irish and October’s win in Wales when both Russell and Adam Hastings went off hurt.
He also started at fly-half for the British and Irish Lions during a midweek match on the tour of Australia back in 2013 – but this will be the first time he kicks-off with 10 on his back for Scotland.
The skipper reportedly claimed after that Llaneli triumph last Autumn that he would prefer to stay at 15, but Townsend has been reassured that Hogg will play were requested.
Townsend said with a grin: “He said he was misquoted! He said to me the next day that wasn’t what he meant.
“Hoggy obviously covered 10 last week and has done so in previous games. We believe that gives us a better balance to the team.
“If he’s going to be a reserve 10 in our squad at times this is a good opportunity to see him starting there.
“I think Stuart is one of the best full-backs in the world. He’s played some outstanding games for us at full-back over the last number of years and been in great form this year.
“Full-back is his position but given his experience, his leadership, his ability and all-round skill-set, we see him being able to cover other positions as required.”
Townsend has also handed first starts to hooker Dave Cherry and scrum half Scott Steele among five personnel changes to the team.
A Guinness Six Nations campaign which started with a bang as the English were beaten at home for the first time since 1983 is now in danger of fizzling out with a whimper following deflating home defeats to Wales and Ireland.
It seems for every step forward Townsend’s team have made, they have taken two back.
And the head coach admits consistency is a problem.
“If you’re not winning every game then, yes, you can expect criticism – and if you’re not playing at your best you can expect criticism, but that’s sport,” he said.
“We’re trying to achieve consistency by winning every game and that’s what we’re working towards. You have to learn from every game, learn from when it goes well and learn from when it doesn’t.”