THE stage is set; the script already written. Duncan Weir, selected as expected by Gregor Townsend for the first game of the Autumn Nations Cup, will be asked to do on Saturday what he did so memorably six years ago: steer Scotland to victory on Italian soil.

There are a couple of differences, of course, between then and now. This match is in Florence, not Rome, and the national coach will hope for a more solid win against Italy than that one back in 2014, when the stand-off saved the day with a last-gasp, long-range drop goal to make the final score 21-20 in the visitors’ favour. And, although the burden of expectation on Weir as playmaker will be the same as it was back then, at 29 he is older and shrewder and more versed in the art of getting the best out of his outside backs.

Townsend, who has named the Worcester stand-off as one of four changes from the team that started the win against Wales, is already on record as saying the former Glasgow back is in the form of his life. Yesterday he explained the specific factors which almost instantly convinced him that Weir was the man to take over from the injured Finn Russell and Adam Hastings.

“I would say it’s having control of the attacking play and not rushing things,” the coach said. “His passing skills have always been pretty good, but now we’re asking more of the 10s: to be connected to the forwards, to be an option out the back and step up as first receiver, to be alive to where space is in the defence.

“It’s about working hard to be in those positions, but then calling for the ball when it’s on. I’ve seen that much more in the last couple of seasons and the last few months with Worcester.

“That probably comes from experience – not just rugby experience but life experience. He has had two children over the last two or three years and that alters you and keeps you calmer and makes you want to enjoy your rugby. His kicking is a huge strength. But just around attacking control, that has been a big improvement.”

A lot has changed since Weir last started for Scotland in 2016, and there must have been times when he felt his chance would not come again, especially when Townsend did not pick him at all in his first two seasons. But he came off the bench in the win against France earlier this year, and if all goes well at the weekend he should be in line to add four more caps over the next month to his current total of 28.

“It’s great that he now gets the reward of playing for Scotland, something he’s been desperate to do for the past few years,” Townsend added. “It’s about knowing you can make the right decisions and have the skills to do it. That has been a great development.”

Of the other three changes, only one is in the pack, with Stuart McInally taking over at hooker from Fraser Brown, who is unavailable after sustaining a head knock in training this week but would have given way to the Edinburgh player in any case.

In the back division, Glasgow’s Sam Johnson replaces James Lang at inside centre and Duhan van der Merwe takes over on the wing from Edinburgh team-mate Blair Kinghorn.

Lang and Kinghorn drop down to a bench which is almost entirely different from the one in Llanelli, with Warriors prop Oli Kebble the sole constant.

Elsewhere in the front row George Turner comes in as replacement hooker and WP Nel returns to deputise at loosehead instead of Simon Berghan, while lock Sam Skinner ousts Ben Toolis and Nick Haining is preferred to Cornell du Preez.

And, with George Horne having been ruled out by a toe injury, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is replacement scrum-half and if used he will win his first cap since 2018.