Following last weekend’s poor showing at Twickenham, Scotland host Italy in an encounter which looks to be an interesting contest following the visitors’ victory over France in Rome last week. Scotland v Italy has traditionally been the wooden spoon decider, a game between the two weakest sides in the tournament struggling for many years to keep pace with the others. Scotland have regressed over the years pushing them further down the rugby pecking order while Italy have gradually improved with impressive coaching, determination and an aggressive drive to succeed. This weekend is important for both teams but on different levels. Scotland need the win just to improve fortunes, reward the fans and to justify the changes to the squad and coaching staff. Italy need the win to further solidify themselves as one of the world’s top test-playing rugby nations while also making a claim for being spoken about when contemplating Six Nation challengers.
Reasons to back Scotland
Scotland looked weak against England, struggling to defend against waves of English attack. There were some good individual performances from the likes of Hogg, Brown and Maitland but the rest forgot to show-up. Interim head coach Scott Johnson has made two changes going into this weekend’s match-up, Ross Ford coming in at hooker for Dougie Hall and Rob Harley replacing the injured Alasdair Strokosch at blind-side flanker. Both players have something to prove with 22-year old Harley looking for his chance in the Six Nations following some impressive club performances and Ford who was dropped for the Calcutta Cup match.
Scotland had brief flashes of potential last weekend but what the team has always lacked is the consistency and game management to stay the course of a contest and finish teams off. The tools have always been there for Scotland, but they have just been unable to scale the last hurdle and claim the wins. More often than not, Scotland have faded against teams who have either been equal to or lesser than them, losing a few points when they had previously been in a leading position. They have lacked the mental toughness to stick it out to the last breath, relying on ‘someone else’ to do the job.
Last weekend, however, proved that Johnson is attempting to establish a team capable of doing the small things right before adding any glamour or sparkle. England were a stronger, more coherent and better equipped team dragging Scotland all over the pitch. Against Italy it will allow for a clearer picture to determine where the team are and what else they need to do to reverse their fortunes. The likes of Lamont, Visser, Scott, Laidlaw and Gray need to show up if Scotland are to stand any chance.
Reasons to back Italy
Italy looked impressive against a strong French side – they controlled the ball, worked hard and kept to their tight game plan. The goal set out by coach Jacques Brunel this campaign was to secure two wins, and with one already wrapped up the Italians are on the hunt to add another against a Scottish side in transition.
For Italy to beat Scotland they will need to bully the young team from the kick-off, controlling the tempo of the match with their aggressive pack and slowing the ball down with strong tackling. Captain Sergio Parisse stated following the French victory that although they set out for two wins this campaign, what’s to stop them challenging for the Six Nations crown also? Italy’s talismanic number 8 said that they are capable of beating anyone as the team possesses some real game-changers who have the skill to stand and trade blows with anyone in international rugby. The likes of Orquera, Castrogiovanni and Venditti all put in stand-out performances against France and will be called on again to improve against Scotland. On the evidence of last weekend Italy look to be right on track and close to becoming a real threat in the Six Nations championship.
As tough as any to call this weekend. Italy head into the game in better form and with more confidence, but Scotland are at home and the Murrayfield factor will definitely play a part. Nonetheless, I think Italy will continue their development and get a close win. Italy to win by 3.
By Alexander McLeman