The enforced absence through injury of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell strips the squad of a lot of experience and leadership clout and if Richie Gray is also ruled out - he hurt his ribs in the defeat by Ireland - then Scotland will be without three of their most senior men. Russell has returned to France to have his knee ligament strain assessed by Racing 92 and the stand-off leaves big shoes to fill. Charlie Savala, the uncapped Edinburgh fly-half, was called into the Scotland squad this week but the smart money is on a straight choice between Ben Healy and Blair Kinghorn to replace Russell.
Healy has been talked up in recent days by both Townsend and his assistant, John Daziel, with the Irish-born playmaker said to have made a favourable impression in training and in the wider squad environment. The Munster 10 is uncapped at Test level but played for Ireland under-20s before making the switch this season to Scotland whom he qualifies for through his maternal grandparents. Kinghorn has spent the best part of the last two seasons being recast as a stand-off at Edinburgh, the position he played as a schoolboy. He started for Scotland at 10 six times, the last being against Australia in the autumn, but recent months have seen him reverting to a back-three role. He has not been picked by Edinburgh at stand-off this year and his Six Nations appearances off the bench have been as a replacement for Hogg (three times) and Kyle Steyn (once), suggesting he is more likely to be deployed at full-back against Italy. Another option would be to pick Ollie Smith at 15 and Kinghorn on the wing. This would give Smith his first taste of action in the tournament and also allow Steyn or Duhan van der Merwe to take a break. The pair have started all four matches and van der Merwe in particular endured a bruising afternoon against Ireland.
Of the other backs selected in the original Six Nations squad who have not been used, there might be a temptation to give some minutes to Cam Redpath. Stafford McDowall, Sean Maitland and Ruaridh McConnochie have been similarly underemployed and may have to wait for the World Cup warm-up Tests for their chance. The call-up for McConnochie was greeted with much fanfare given the winger had been capped previously by England but Steyn and van der Merwe have performed admirably in the Six Nations even if both struggled at times against Ireland. In the forwards, Rory Darge may come into Townsend’s thoughts despite some misgivings from his coach at Glasgow, Franco Smith, who feels he could do with a few more club games following his long absence with an ankle injury. Ewan Ashman is another who has not been used, while the uncapped Cameron Henderson could win a place on the bench if Gray is ruled out.