Date: 17th March 2012
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Referee: Alain Rolland
If ever a rugby side played to a script, then it is the Italians. They continue to play with a level of intensity that keeps them in games throughout the first half but then seem unable to maintain it in the second. This was certainly true in their game against Wales last weekend as the Azzurri were only six points behind the Welsh at halftime, but a scoreless second half saw them lose by a margin of 21 points. Putting aside the fact they are yet to find a win in the 2012 Six Nations, their performances have deserved some merit, especially the narrow loss to England, and the game against Scotland remains their best chance of a victory and avoiding the wooden spoon.
Another year and another wooden spoon decider, despite valiant efforts they have failed to make an impact upon this Six Nations, despite having several chances. After falling apart last week at the hands of the Irish the Scottish side will be desperate to gain a win by any means in the final weekend.
Nick De Luca returns to the side, after a hamstring injury forced him to withdraw from last weekend’s match only a couple of hours before kick off, and is the only change to the starting XV. De Luca comes in at outside centre, and Max Evans moves across to the wing to replace concussed Lee Jones. In the pack it is the same names, for the 3rd game in a row, and on the bench Bath fullback and wing, Jack Cuthbert, who was in action for Scotland in the World Cup warm ups comes in. Cuthbert replaces Matt Scott on an otherwise unchanged bench.
What to Expect:
AS: Unfortunately for Italy, it seems as if Scotland have now overcome their try-scoring obstacles and this is no longer likely to be a game that can be won solely by accuracy with the boot. Given the troubles the Italians have had with the goal kickers so far this tournament, this could perhaps prove a blessing in disguise providing the Italian backs step it up a notch and put in their performance of the tournament.
CL: A gritty, borderline desperate, game from both sides. Neither team have really played the prettiest of rugby this campaign, and that will not be their focus now. An ugly ground out win is still a win at the end of the day, and I think that that will be foremost in the minds of all. The packs going up against each other will be an evenly matched battle, especially given the return of Martin Castrogiovanni to the Italian side. Whoever wins will have to grind it out over the full eighty minutes.
All Eyes On: Sergio Parisse & Ross Ford
Although he has recently been nominated for the Six Nations Player of the Championship, the Italian captain will be disappointed with his performances thus far. Albeit playing, as one would expect from an international number eight, Parisse is capable of even more and is widely regarded as the best number eight in world rugby. The Italian captain will want to turn in a strong performance to end what has been a fairly average Championship for the Azzurri talisman.
Encouraging and full of promise back at the start of the campaign when he was named Captain; Ford followed that up with a nervy performance against England. He settled down in his role until last weekend when he once again appeared nervy. In this match however, there really will be no room for nerves, as Ford will have to put in a calm and solid performance, leading his team literally from the front to victory. This game will really test the Captains mettle.
Head-to-Head: Alessandro Zanni v John Barclay
Zanni was having a fairly uneventful Six Nations until an excellent performance last week against the Welsh. Not only was he powerful in the loose but also a force at the breakdown, disrupting Welsh ball as well as securing a couple of turnovers. When he goes up against the Scots this weekend he will need to be even more dominant in securing quick ball for the Italians if they are to have a chance of crossing the try line, especially given the return of the ball carrying Robert Barbieri in place of the more breakdown-orientated Simone Favaro.
Somewhat overshadowed by his colleagues at 7 and 8, John Barclay has had a quiet Six Nations. That is not to say that he has been bad, rather that his performances have been of a heads down kind. He has worked as hard as Denton and Rennie, albeit in a less starry way, and you could see his frustration last week as the line out and the scrum went wrong for Scotland. Barclay can play incredibly clinical and simple rugby, and has been working exceptionally well with Denton and Rennie, given the newness of their collaboration. Going up against Italy he will really need to push his style of play to the limit, as this battle, plus that of the rest of the back row, will be key to feeding the ball to the backs.
Both sides come into the match determined, looking to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon, but I think the Italian forwards will keep them on top at the set piece. Italy by 7 points. AS
Scotland have only won twice in Rome since 2000, which is not the most impressive record going into this game, however much people want them to pull it out of the bag when it comes down to the wire. The Italians will challenge them at the set piece, however do not have the greatest kicking record. Whichever the result goes it is going to be a close match. Italy by 3. CL