Forget Wales v France in Cardiff. You can keep your England v Ireland at Twickenham. This is the game of the weekend. So batten down the hatches and prepare for a wild rugby ride!
Not buying the rhetoric? Me neither. The insipid starts both these sides have made to the tournament fills one with a certain feeling of dread; that this game in all likelihood is going to be a turgid bore-fest.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. Italy have showed signs that there are some green shoots beginning to spring up around the great oak roots of seasoned campaigners Parisse and Castrogiovanni.
Tommaso Allan flashes when the ball is quick. Michele Campagnaro threatens to spark given half a gap. The problem lies in whether can Italy consistently manufacture such opportunities, rather than trying to live off opposition scraps as they did against Wales.
They no longer look like the tournament’s perennial outsiders, but rather just a reasonable side lacking a cutting edge. However, their problems seem relatively manageable when compared to those of their opponents.
The dire nature of Scotland’s two performances to date has led some to call into question their place in the Six Nations. Whilst such contrarians and heretics ought to be cast aside, there are worrying signs that Scotland are in an inexorable decline.
They have been miserable. Calamitous in the set piece, with a general lack of intensity, imagination and an inability to execute basic skills, they have failed to produce anything resembling even a scoring chance.
They have gone from having a physical and competitive pack with a meek set of backs under Andy Robinson, to possessing a plethora of potential talent in the outside ¾’s, seemingly let down by a weak looking pack and inconsistent half-backs. Scotland will need to right a long list of wrongs if they are to overcome a fairly mediocre Italy side; a sad state of affairs indeed.
All eyes on
In the light blue, Tommaso Allan will once again be centre stage for the Azzurri. He needs to ensure his goal-kicking is significantly improved from weeks one and two, and that he isn’t afraid to attack the line and express himself. If Allan can improve on his early performances, Italy ought to avoid the Wooden Spoon.
Back in the starting line-up, British Lion Richie Gray needs to have a massive game. He has not found form for his country for some time, hence being forced to ride the pine early on. Scottish fans will want to see Gray use his monumental frame to get Scotland going forward, both in the loose and the tight, and to try and sort out their faltering lineout with the help of Scott Lawson.
Head-to-head: Sergio Parisse v Johnnie Beattie
Left out of the side so far in this campaign, despite fine form in Europe for Montpellier, Beattie will have a point to prove. There are few more difficult opponents to make that point against than Sergio Parisse. At times in the past Parisse has seemingly carried Italy’s fortunes solely on his shoulders. Whilst there is now a stronger supporting cast to relieve the Azzurri Atlas of his burden, Parisse is still at the heart of everything Italy do. Expect a few tasty collisions, and for the result of their personal battle to go a long way to deciding the eventual victor.
Unless Scotland can take a giant leap forward, Italy will likely be able to strong arm them in the tight and deny the Scots any real foothold. In a game likely to be low on points I think the Italians’ desire will see them through. Italy by 5.
By Patrick Cheshire (@jpcheshire)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images