Rory Darge feels Italy’s Stadio Olimpico would be “a nice place” for Duhan van der Merwe to become Scotland’s record try-scorer – but the co-captain stressed that his team’s focus is solely on leaving Rome with another Guinness Six Nations victory.

The Scots have won two of their three championship matches so far to sit second in the table – albeit six points adrift of Grand Slam-chasing Ireland – going into the penultimate round of fixtures.

While the priority for Gregor Townsend’s side is to get the points that will keep them on course for a first top-two finish in the Six Nations era, the fixture has added spice because Van der Merwe goes into it with 26 international tries to his name – one shy of the county’s record-holder Stuart Hogg.

A score or two by the South Africa-born wing on Saturday would see him join or overtake the former full-back, who will be at the Stadio Olimpico to support his old colleagues after completing a charity cycle to the Eternal City in aid of the My Name’5 Doddie foundation.

Back-rower Darge said: “I know one of Duhi’s tries in particular (his second one against England) was off our defensive efforts and then the turnover attack, so if we do get ourselves right, then we can put guys like that in.

“He’s obviously a great finisher. Sometimes you only need to give him half a chance and he comes away with a chance, so it (the record) could happen.

“It would be a nice place for him to do it but I don’t think he’ll have too much of his mind set on that.

“He’ll just be focused on his role, and he might come away with a couple, but we’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure Italy will put us under a lot of pressure.”

Darge insisted Edinburgh wing Van der Merwe has remained as humble as ever in the wake of the Calcutta Cup hat-trick a fortnight ago that put him on the cusp of Hogg’s record.

“Duhi’s always the same,” said the Glasgow forward. “Around training and around camp, he’s always quite laidback but when he gets out there he’s a Test-match animal, and it’s class to be able to play with him.”

Darge’s only previous experience of playing at Stadio Olimpico was a 33-22 victory two years ago in front of a crowd of 41,214.

This time, the famous arena in north-west Rome – used predominantly for football – is set to be full to capacity, with 70,000 tickets having been sold on the back of encouraging championship performances from the Azzurri against England and France.

“Italy are a really good side,” said Darge. “We saw that against France, and they’re obviously playing at home where they’ll have a really good atmosphere and good backing.

“The Stadio Olimpico is different (to other Six Nations venues) but the Scotland fans always travel well for this one, so that will be massive for us.

“It’s a long walk from the changing room but it’s a cool stadium. Inside the changing room, on the walk in, with all the jerseys on the wall and stuff like that, there’s a lot of history behind it, so it’s a cool place to be playing rugby.”

Recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge will start Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations match at home to France following six weeks out with a knee injury.

The 23-year-old Glasgow flanker takes over the number seven jersey from previous skipper Jamie Ritchie, who drops out of the 23 altogether, in one of three changes – all in the forward-line – to the team that started the 27-26 win away to Wales.

Darge, who has recovered quicker than anticipated from an injury sustained away to Edinburgh on the last weekend of December, is listed as co-captain alongside stand-off Finn Russell for the Murrayfield showdown with a French side aiming to bounce back from their chastening 38-17 home defeat by Ireland.

Number eight Jack Dempsey and lock Grant Gilchrist, who was suspended last weekend, return to the side in place of Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray, both of whom picked up tournament-ending injuries in Cardiff.

The backs department is unchanged, meaning Kyle Rowe, who made his first international start in Wales, continues at full-back in the absence of the injured Blair Kinghorn.

On-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie has been named among the subs after missing out on the 23 last weekend.

Defence coach Steve Tandy insisted Scotland would have no concerns about throwing recently-appointed co-captain Rory Darge into Saturday’s showdown with France following six weeks on the sidelines.

The 23-year-old flanker sustained a knee injury while playing for Glasgow against Edinburgh on December 30 and has not played since.

He was initially rated doubtful for the entire championship but has recovered quicker than anticipated and is expected to be ready for this weekend’s match against Les Bleus.

Darge’s return to contention is particularly timely after fellow flanker Luke Crosbie and veteran lock Richie Gray were ruled out for the rest of the tournament with shoulder and bicep injuries respectively.

“Dargey’s trained and he’s looking good,” reported Tandy on Tuesday. “He came through training last week, he trained again today, so all being well in the rest of the training week he’ll be available.”

Asked if he felt Darge could slot straight back into the Test XV having not played for almost a month and a half, Tandy said: “Definitely. He’s done it before, after injuries.

“Knowing Rory and the guy he is, how diligent he is and how he looks at and studies the game, we have no doubts. Physically, it feels like he’s adding layer on layer as he gets a little bit older.

“He’s physically ready and even when they are injured, the boys are still lifting (weights) – it’s not as if they’re sitting there doing nothing. They’re active in and around what the strength and conditioning guys and the medical team want.”

Tandy lamented the loss of back-rower Crosbie and second-rower Gray after the pair – both of whom started the match – picked up tournament-ending injuries in Saturday’s 27-26 victory away to Wales.

“First and foremost, with the characters they are, they’re awesome individuals,” said the coach. “Richie brings lots of experience around the group and he’s got better with age.

“He’s great to work with and you see the energy and clarity he brings to the group. He will be sorely missed.

“Luke has fought so hard to get to the international scene. You see the warrior he is on the field, but there is also the character he is and how he leads in the training environment, how he speaks in meetings.

“We’ve got a great squad though. If you look at the back-rowers, there are loads of form players so we’re lucky enough to have an abundance in those positions.

“If someone misses out, everyone else is ready to step into the shirt.”

Tandy admitted there were “lots of learnings” for Scotland after a game in Cardiff where they went dangerously close to squandering a 27-0 lead.

However, he also felt there were plenty of positives to be drawn from their first win in the Welsh capital in 22 years, ahead of back-to-back home games against France and England.

“It’s important not to get too far ahead,” said Tandy. “We’ve had a really good result, going to Wales and getting that job done, but now it’s just about focusing on France.

“Coming back to Murrayfield is massive. We’ve got to improve bits of our game and continue lots of the stuff we did in the first half and at the back end of the Wales game.”

Scotland have suffered further injury woe after forwards Luke Crosbie and Richie Gray were ruled out for the remainder of the Six Nations.

Edinburgh back-rower Crosbie went off in the second half of Saturday’s 27-26 victory away to Wales with a shoulder issue, while Glasgow second-rower Gray was forced off in the first half with a bicep problem.

The injuries have now been assessed and Scotland confirmed on Tuesday morning that the pair – who both started in Cardiff – will be sidelined for the rest of the tournament.

Scotland were already missing some key players going into last weekend’s opener as co-captain Rory Darge was not deemed fit enough to feature due to a knee injury sustained at the end of December, while Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn and Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham were ruled out of at least the first two matches with knee and quad problems respectively.

The Scots are hopeful that Darge will be fit enough to return in Saturday’s Murrayfield showdown with France, which would offset the loss of Crosbie in the back row, while Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist is available after suspension to take the place of Gray.

Finn Russell believes his appointment as Scotland co-captain is testament to the newfound harmony he and head coach Gregor Townsend have found following a fractious past.

The 31-year-old was named in the role on Sunday, along with back-rower Rory Darge, ahead of the upcoming Guinness Six Nations.

Russell being handed such a responsibility was particularly notable given he and Townsend have had a strained relationship at times, with the stand-off admitting there is no way he would have been considered for skipper duties back in 2020.

Four years ago, the pair had a well-documented fall-out when the fly-half left the squad ahead of the Six Nations after being disciplined for failing to turn up for training following a drinking session.

And then in 2022, Russell’s Scotland career looked in jeopardy once more when – in the wake of another unauthorised night out during the Six Nations earlier that year – he was surprisingly omitted from the squad for the autumn tests.

Russell and Townsend held clear-the-air talks midway through that series 15 months ago which led to a recall and they have managed to get themselves “on the same page” since then, culminating in the head coach choosing the Bath number 10 to lead the Scots into the Six Nations after opting to relieve Jamie Ritchie of the captaincy.

“I think 2020 would have been the closest to that,” Russell said when asked on Wednesday if he ever thought his Scotland career was over.

“I was still young enough then that I wouldn’t have said I’d have been done (with Scotland), but with the relationship me and Gregor had, it was potentially tough at the time to see a way back for both of us but I think it shows how well we’ve both dealt with it since then.

“At the time it wasn’t great for either side but it shows both our characters that we’ve managed to get over that to where we are now. Going back to 2020, you wouldn’t have picked me as captain three or four years later, would you?

“It shows how we’ve both changed and adapted off the back of that situation. These things happen in high-pressure environments when things are potentially not going as planned.

“A bust-up happened, that’s kind of all it was, but six months later we were back on good enough terms that I then came back that November.

“And then in 2022, there was another slight fall-out again I suppose, but then I came back again in the November and we were both back on the same page. It’s been great since then, that’s all in the past. It’s not something me and Gregor talk about much.”

Having put their stormy past behind them, Russell feels the fact he and Townsend have forged a genuinely strong bond can help Scotland prosper.

“I’d say our relationship is the best it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s much more relaxed now actually, if that makes sense.

“It’s still a player-coach relationship but it feels more relaxed and open than that in terms of just blethering away, whether it’s rugby stuff or just chatting about off-field things.

“I think the relationship between me and Gregor is in a great position right now for us to ideally drive the team on to a title.”

Glasgow back-rower Rory Darge and Bath stand-off Finn Russell have been named as Scotland’s new co-captains for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations.

It has also been revealed that free-scoring wing Darcy Graham has been ruled out of the opening two matches through injury.

Jamie Ritchie had been the skipper since replacing Stuart Hogg in the role for the 2022 Autumn series but, with the Edinburgh flanker having been hindered by shoulder and jaw injuries following last year’s World Cup, Gregor Townsend has opted to make a change in order to “further grow and develop the leadership within the squad”.

Both Russell, 31, and Darge, 23, have previous experience of captaining the team in Ritchie’s absence.

The talismanic Russell, who has been in impressive form since moving to Bath from Racing 92, is likely to lead the Scots in the opening match away to Wales as 23-year-old Darge is expected to miss the early part of the championship as he battles to recover from a knee injury sustained at the end of December.

“Appointing co-captains for this year’s Guinness Six Nations allows us to further grow and develop the leadership within the squad,” head coach Townsend told Scottish Rugby on Sunday morning.

“Rory and Finn captained Scotland last summer and bring different strengths and styles of leadership to the table.

“Both are highly respected within our squad and have been part of our leadership group for some time.

“I’m sure they will thrive with this responsibility and lean on our other leaders to drive certain aspects of our preparation, mindset and performance.”

Ritchie was sidelined for a month after the World Cup due to a shoulder injury sustained in the first half of the pool-stage defeat by Ireland in October. After returning in mid-November for six Edinburgh matches, the back-rower suffered a jaw injury in the win over Glasgow on 30 December.

Townsend said last week that he was undecided on the captaincy and that he needed to see Ritchie “put his best foot forward” in Friday’s Challenge Cup match away to Scarlets.

However, the 27-year-old was restricted to a second-half substitute appearance as he made his return to action.

Russell’s appointment as captain is particularly significant as the influential fly-half has had a strained relationship with Townsend at times in the past.

Russell was cut from the squad ahead of the 2020 Six Nations after he missed a training session following a late-night drinking session and he was also controversially omitted from the initial squad for the 2022 autumn Tests as Townsend appeared intent on phasing him out before injuries prompted him to recall the former Glasgow fly-half midway through the series.

“Playing for Scotland is a huge honour and to co-captain the side is a privilege and something I am proud of,” Russell said.

“We have such a talented squad and to lead them alongside Rory represents a massive opportunity. I can’t wait to get started with this year’s championship.”

In the same update that confirmed the change of captaincy, Scottish Rugby revealed that Edinburgh wing Graham will miss the opening two matches away to Wales and at home to France with a quad injury.

The 26-year-old – Scotland’s second highest try-scorer of all time – has been replaced in the squad by Ross McCann, a 26-year-old wing who played for Scotland Under-20s before becoming a full-time Scotland 7s player.

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