Scotland assistant coach John Dalziel is adamant that the Six Nations is no time for experimentation, but he concedes that it is not necessarily a bad thing that the team are going to have to go into battle against Italy this weekend without two of their most important players of the last decade, while another senior man is a major doubt.

With the World Cup now just six months and five Test matches away, testing squad depth could be a very useful exercise against the Azzurri.

Having fielded the same back line for each of the four games played in the campaign, Scotland will be without both Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg on Saturday, after they suffered knee and ankle injuries respectively during last Sunday’s defeat to Ireland.

It will be only the second time since the second match of the 2012 Six Nations (57 games) that neither Hogg nor Russell will be in the starting line-up.

In that pair’s absence, Blair Kinghorn could fill in at either full-back or stand-off, while Ollie Smith is also an option at full-back and Dalziel hinted yesterday that Ben Healy – a former Ireland Under-20s cap who committed to Scotland this year and is moving club from Munster to Edinburgh in the summer – could well be in line for a debut at stand-off.

“We’ve been so impressed with Ben,” he said. “I think it’s his mindset, he’s very intelligent around his game. He brings a different perspective from being in the Irish system and we’ve used him as a coaching tool.

“He speaks really insightfully on a lot of areas and just gives a different perspective. He’s been excellent and has probably deserved an opportunity but where do you give him that opportunity when you’ve got France and Ireland, and Finn’s playing so well?

“He’s come in and made a commitment, and is going to Edinburgh as well, and we’re so excited in what we see in him. We’re looking beyond the next cycle and he’s a lad that’s really going to add to our group.

“Charlie Savala has joined up with the squad as well today, so we’ve got depth [at stand-off]. Charlie has been training with us on the odd week, so we’ve got choices there and we’ve got guys who’ve got experience of playing in there.

“[Head coach] Gregor [Townsend] will finish off selection and we’ll assess the injuries after the walk through [today] and speak to the medics but we’re comfortable with the choices we have there.”

Dalziel added that he does not anticipate Russell facing a length spell out of action though injury.

“Finn was assessed by our medics here and I think it’s just a slight strain to the medial, so nothing major,” he explained. “But he’ll be properly assessed by his club and then they’ll give a timescale.

“He’s played a lot of rugby, in between the [Scotland] camps as well when he’s gone back [to France]. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t ask too much of him by trying to turn him around this week and then losing him longer term.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s out but it’s a short turnaround, it’s the last game of the championship and it’s right for him to be assessed properly and given time.”

The other major injury concern ahead of the side to face Italy being announced tomorrow morning is Richie Gray, who retired after six minutes of Sunday’s game with a rib injury. The significance of his likely absence is heightened by Grant Gilchrist – with whom he had formed a formidable second-row partnership this season – being suspended.

“It certainly looks a lot better than when he came off on Sunday,” said Dalziel of Gray’s injury. “At the time we felt it was from the impact of the tackle but I think it’s more from the twist and landing on his hips.

“There’s nothing broken but it’s a very tender area and it’s going to be around how he operates in doing his job and his roles within the team and we’ll make a decision on that on Wednesday.

“He’s settled and he’s doing everything he can around the constraints. We’ll need to get into the rugby part: can he jump and stretch? And that will decide [if he can play at the weekend].”

Jonny Gray and fit again Scott Cummings were in the engine room at the end of Sunday’s match and would be the obvious choices to start there this week if the older Gray is ruled out, while Sam Skinner who played the final 10 minutes against France would likely come back on to the bench after missing the Ireland game.

However, Townsend has spoken in this championship about his preference for matching teams like Italy who tend to go for a six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench, and if he opts to do that then Cameron Henderson – the 6ft 7ins Leicester Tigers second row – could be in line for his first cap.