Scotland expect to see 'confident' Hogg against Italy

Tough at the top - Stuart Hogg (C) has had a difficult start to his time as Scotland captain

Scotland are optimistic that time away from the international scene will benefit Stuart Hogg before facing Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday following a difficult start to his time as Test captain.

Last weekend, the full-back scored an impressive first league try for Exeter in a win over Gloucester to cement the Chiefs' position at the top of the table.

Earlier this month, his errors helped contribute to Scotland's defeats in the opening two rounds of this season's Six Nations.

Hogg squandered a seemingly certain try when he fumbled the ball over the goal-line against Ireland.

In the Calcutta Cup defeat his inability to clear in time led to a five-metre scrum for England's only try.

Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair said on Monday Hogg's mistakes needed to kept in context.

"I think Stuart has played really well in the games," Blair said.

"He has had a couple of unfortunate bits, particularly against Ireland with the try.

"Against England, I don't think there was a huge amount he could have done in the build-up to their try, because the ball just wouldn't stop for him," he added.

Former scrum-half Blair said he was happy to see Hogg on the scoresheet for his club on Friday.

"But it was great to see Stuart scoring a try... He's a confident guy and he is playing well at the moment, so we expect to see that against Italy as well."

Hogg took over as skipper following the disappointing pool stage exit from last year's World Cup in Japan.

- 'Must-win' -

Blair, himself a former Scotland captain, sympathised with Hogg's situation.

"There have been a few things but we have been really pleased with how he has done," he said.

"The group around him have helped a lot as well so he can just concentrate on playing and coming in and saying bits and bobs, creating the environment that he wants. We are really happy with how he has been leading the team."

An already tricky task has been made more difficult with Finn Russell's exile from Scotland duty following the breakdown of the gifted outside-half's relationship with head coach Gregor Townsend.

Russell and Townsend have both tried to explain their positions in separate media interviews.

But Blair said there had been no recent contact between them and it would be a major surprise if Townsend recalled the Racing 92 fly-half for Saturday's match in Rome.

The Azurrri have also lost their opening two matches this Six Nations, with Blair acknowledging the pivotal importance of this weekend's fixture.

"I think it's a must-win," he said.

"We have shown some positives in the first two games but it's not about how you play, it's winning games."