TODAY’s game against Italy is obviously a must-win for Scotland. But rather than feeling pressurised by that fact, the team should regard it as a chance to showcase their game at its best. 

In our last few matches we’ve had periods of absolute dominance, but there have also been periods of poor discipline which have let teams back into the game. It is time this weekend to get as close as we can to an 80-minute performance - something that would not only ensure a win over the Italians, but would also set us up well for the game against France, which promises to be a massive test.  

I would far rather be playing than serving the last game of my suspension, of course, but I have every confidence in Stuart Hogg to do a good job at stand-off. Hoggy has stepped in at 10 in recent games, when either Finn Russell or myself or both have been injured, and he played at 10 for the Lions back in 2013 - something he still reminds me of to this day!

Hoggy is a brilliant player and he knows how to run a game, and it will be fascinating to see how he goes. Outside him he’s got Sam Johnson, who is a great talking 12 - he’ll help Hoggy out and let him know whether it’s on to play wide or best to keep hitting up through the middle. And then there’s Huw Jones at 13.

Shuggy is such a good rugby player - he’s so fast I think he could play anywhere in the back line, bar 10. It’s good to see him back flying again. He has been such a dominant force at 13 in the past, for Glasgow and for Scotland, so I’m just buzzing for him that he’s in such good form.

We’ve had some very good results against Italy at times, but at others we’ve made it hard for ourselves. At times the Italians paint a picture that suggests there might be space for you to attack, but their defence is actually quite good at shutting it down, and we’ve been caught out quite a few times like that. 

That was most prevalent in our game against them in the last Six Nations when I was involved. We made things hard for ourselves and didn’t take our chances.

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Italy are such a passionate team: they will stay in the game. They will keep coming until the 80th or 81st minute, and are so aggressive. It would be stupid to underestimate them.

A six-day turnaround can be tougher than the full week, but in this case Scotland can use it to their advantage, as it meant they had to park last Sunday’s Ireland game pretty quickly and move on. A defeat like that is always going to sting for a day or two, but the beauty of rugby is that you quickly get a chance to right those wrongs. 

As I’ve mentioned, for me the biggest lesson to learn from that game concerned our discipline, which probably let us down against Wales as well. It’s just giving teams an easy out when you concede cheap penalties, and with Johnny Sexton being such a good kicker, that was always going to be costly for Scotland. 

The thing is, when we’ve got such a good defence as well, if we make sure we don’t give away too many penalties we can make teams play from a bit deeper. We know we’ll get kicks back and we can counter-attack with the threats we’ve got.

Ireland was a tough loss to take, but the boys will be raring to go this weekend. Provided they stay patient in defence, they will give themselves a great chance of winning, and then it will be on to Paris for the last match in the Six Nations.

I would hope to be involved in that game, but first things first: I’ve got to play well enough tomorrow for Glasgow against the Dragons before I can think of getting back into the Scotland set-up. I’m playing at full-back, and although I obviously want to be playing at 10, Ross Thompson has been playing so well in recent Warriors games that he has deserved to keep his place.

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I’ve played a few games at full-back for Scotland, not to mention for Glasgow and before that at Currie, so it’s by no means completely foreign to me. The move from 10 to 15 almost takes a bit of pressure off, because you’ve got a bit more time to scan what’s going on, and to be a second pair of eyes and ears for the half-backs. I’ll be helping them out as much as I can.

At 10 you’ve got a lot of things to think about, such as what moves you’re using where, and I’ll still be heavily involved in those discussions on the pitch. But playing at 15 should give me a chance to showcase my running game as well, and I’m actually looking forward to it - it will be nice to get a bit of freedom.

And when it comes to kicking, as Ross is left-footed and I’ve got my right foot, having both of us on the field will increase our options. It should be a good game, and after three weeks out I’m very much up for the challenge.