Their last win came at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2015 and the two sides will renew their rivalry on Saturday in Edinburgh where anything other than a home win would be a major shock.
Townsend thinks Italy are playing rugby the right way and has been impressed by some of their age-grade performances, the sign perhaps of better times ahead. The Scotland coach also says the Italian away trip adds an extra dimension for supporters.
“I started playing a long time ago when Italy were fighting hard to get into the Six Nations and had to play non-cap internationals against every country as they waited to get their chance,” said Townsend.
“I think they’ve been a fantastic addition to the Championship and have beaten us a few times over the years, including in 2000 in their first game in the Championship.
“Their inclusion makes the Championship richer, adds variety to the Six Nations weekends. Although we can’t enjoy that at the moment with supporters, it is wonderful to have Rome involved.
“And I believe they are playing some of the most attractive rugby in the tournament. Yes, they’ve not won a game yet but they’re playing with ambition.
“They’ve decided to go down the route of bringing young players through now with the goal, I’d imagine, of being more competitive as that team grows, whether that is next year’s Six Nations or heading towards the World Cup.
“When you see the performances of their under-20s then I believe they’ve got a big future.
“There is always going to be some team which doesn’t win games in the Six Nations – not every team can win the game – but I believe Italy should be in the Championship and will grow over the next few years.”
Italy have lost 31 Six Nations matches in a row and have picked a youthful side to take on Scotland in their final match of this year’s tournament. Federico Mori, the 20-year-old Calvisano centre, starts a Test match for the first time.
Flanker David Sisi is missing after failing to recover from a shoulder injury sustained in last weekend’s 48-7 home loss to Wales.