Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has made four changes to the side that took to BT Murrayfield in their 26-23 defeat to Wales on 15 February.
They are a team that will be targeting this game, so we must be prepared to roll our sleeves up and work very hard to get a result.
The 25-year-old is the in-form half-back available to Scotland head coach Vern Cotter after Russell’s appeal on a two-week ban for a reckless challenge in the air was dismissed by an Six Nations Appeal Committee on Wednesday.
Horne, who has five caps to his name and came off the bench in the opening round defeat to France, guided Glasgow Warriors to an impressive 54-10 win over Zebre two weeks ago and backed that up by leading the Warriors to a 19-16 win over the Ospreys on Saturday to maintain their lead at the top of the Guinness PRO12.
“We’re very wary of Italy and feel that they have improved,” Cotter said.
“They are a team that will be targeting this game, so we must be prepared to roll our sleeves up and work very hard to get a result.
“They are a big, physical team – bigger than us – so we will have to be technically strong and well connected as a group to withstand what will be a strong assault on our defensive line.
“We’re very focused on what we do and what we want to achieve, which is to apply pressure that yields points, create line breaks and tackle breaks and develop our speed in this game.
“If we keep developing our belief and our skill sets, and our attitude to the game and our standards we’ll get what we’re aiming for, which is the win.”
Joining Horne in the starting XV are three of his Glasgow Warriors colleagues with lock Tim Swinson replacing injured Jonny Gray in the second row.
Euan Murray returns to the front row after sitting out the Sunday match with Geoff Cross dropping to the bench.
The players have been very honest, but we’re enjoying what we’re doing and that’s important.
In the backs, fit again wing Tommy Seymour replaces Edinburgh’s Tim Visser to take his customary position on the right wing, so Sean Lamont switches to the left wing.
Edinburgh forwards duo Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson could make their Scotland debuts if they are brought off the bench, replacing injured lock Jim Hamilton (groin) and experienced flanker Alasdair Strokosch, respectively, while experience Glasgow Warriors loosehead prop Ryan Grant takes Gordon Reid’s place on the bench after the prop went off with a knee injury against Wales.
Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne joins his club team-mates Greig Tonks and Matt Scott in retaining a place on the bench after coming through graduated return-to-play protocols.
“We have youth and experience in this group of players and when we look at our performances, we’ve improved from one week to the next, so that’s positive,” Cotter added.
“We’ve stayed focused on the process. The players have been very honest, but we’re enjoying what we’re doing and that’s important.
“We focus on the here, the now, and what’s next, in the knowledge that what we do now can influence what comes next.”
Scotland go into the match having lost their opening two matches to France and Wales with the match being dubbed a wooden spoon decider against Italy, who have also lost their opening two matches.
The Azzurri have won just once away since joining the championship in 2000, with that winning coming against Scotland at BT Murrayfield, when they impressed in a 37-17 win.
But injuries have hit Jacques Brunel’s side with veterans Martin Castrogiovanni, Marco Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco all missing from the pack, while centres Andrea Masi and Michele Campagnaro have also been ruled out by injury.
As a result, the Dark Blues go into the match as overwhelming favourites to record Cotter’s first Six Nations win since taking charge of Scotland last summer.
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