Six Nations: Townsend confident Scotland can cope without Russell and Hogg
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is confident his side can cope without injured backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg against Italy this weekend.
Townsend's side welcome bottom team Italy to Murrayfield on Saturday in their concluding fixture of a mixed 2023 Six Nations campaign.
After kicking off with back-to-back wins for the first time in their tournament history, Scotland have since tasted defeat to strong France and Ireland sides.
Townsend has made four changes from last weekend's 22-7 loss to Ireland, with Ollie Smith and Blair Kinghorn set to start in place of Russell and Hogg.
Richie Gray is replaced by Sam Skinner at lock and openside flanker Hamish Watson is in for the benched Matt Fagerson.
Asked if his back-line can step up in the absence of two key men, Townsend said: "Absolutely. We had a similar situation in the summer when players stepped up in attacking roles.
"They also stepped up in general play and in terms of our defence. We've got that experience when going up against a top team, and that's what we're going up against this week."
Take a look back at the story behind the Cuttitta Cup 🏆#AsOne pic.twitter.com/QNlIq3X9la— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 16, 2023
Scotland have not started without either Russell or Hogg in a home Six Nations game since the opening match of the 2012 edition against England.
Townsend's men are third heading into the final round of games, nine points better off than Italy, who require a win to have any hope of avoiding an eighth straight wooden spoon.
Kieran Crowley has also made four changes from last week's 29-17 home loss to Wales, with 21-year-old Zebre winger Simone Gesi in line for his debut.
Alessandro Fusco makes his first start of the year at scrum-half, while Edoardo Iachizzi and Marco Riccioni also return
"We were disappointed with the performance against Wales," Crowley said. "We addressed that in the week and are looking forward to Saturday's match against a very good side."
Scotland: Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Blair Kinghorn, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Jack Dempsey.
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price, Ben Healy, Cameron Redpath.
Italy: Tommaso Allan, Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Simone Gesi, Paolo Garbisi, Alessandro Fusco; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Marco Riccioni, Edoardo Iachizzi, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro, Lorenzo Cannone.
Replacements: Marco Manfredi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Garbisi, Luca Morisi.