Gregor Townsend still believes in his injury-ravaged Scotland squad can challenge for the Guinness Six Nations crown.
The Dark Blues head coach has been forced to name seven uncapped players among the 39-man party that will gather on Sunday.
His options have been hampered by an extensive injury list containing 19 internationals, including former skipper John Barclay, Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray, and Townsend admits he will be down to the bare bones in a number of key positions when they open their championship campaign at home to Italy on February 2.
But he is refusing to rule the Scots out of the title hunt.
“Every team will have injury challenges, but every team will be going into the tournament believing they can win,” said the Scotland coach. “That’s the only reason we take part – to win the next game and then win the trophy at the end of the tournament.
“We believe in our squad. We’ve seen how they’ve taken on the best in the world over the past few years and on some of those occasions we had a lot of injuries.
“Over the piece, I think we have a squad with a lot of experience and players playing with confidence and in good form.”
Townsend is hopeful the roll-call of absentees will have reduced significantly in time for their third fixture away to France on February 23.
Glasgow hookers Fraser Brown and George Turner certainly fall into that category, but right now their absences leave the head coach with Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally as his sole experienced campaigner in the centre of his front row as he starts his preparations for facing the Azzurri.
Three rookies – Edinburgh’s David Cherry, Leicester’s Jake Kerr and Grant Stewart of Glasgow – will offer cover and Townsend has faith in his uncapped new faces, despite their lack of international action.
“It’s an opportunity, an opportunity borne out of injuries to Fraser and George,” he said. “All three are coming in having had no experience in a match-day squad.
“But these players have been playing fairly regularly, especially Grant and Jake. And David has been back-up to Stuart for most of the season, getting game time off the bench.
“So we are involving players that are playing for their clubs, playing well for their clubs and it will be exciting to work with them and see which one makes that squad for Italy.”
Yet Townsend is under no illusions about the task facing his squad over the next two months.
With Ireland, Wales and England occupying three of the top four slots in the world rankings, he admits this year’s Six Nations could be among the toughest ever.
Townsend, who has also handed call-ups to the uncapped Gary Graham, D’Arcy Rae, Sam Johnson and Chris Dean, said: “It’s been competitive over the last few years, you’ve got teams finding it difficult to win away from home because the teams they are up against are so good.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a championship where the number two, number three and number four teams in the world are Ireland, Wales and England, so it shows the quality of opposition we’ll be facing.”