Match preview: Italy v Scotland, 6 Nations 2016

KO 4.50 at Stadio Olimpico, Saturday 27th February
Live on ITV

It’s now more than 2 years since Scotland last won a game in the 6 Nations. Coincidentally that victory came on their last visit to Rome after Duncan Weir’s late, late show (NB Scotland’s only drop goal in their last 50 Tests). In this season’s edition of the tournament the dark blues have started with 2 losses – sadly not an unusual experience and this is the 7th time in the last 8 years they have come into this matchday weekend without a win (and they’ve only managed to snap the losing streak twice).

Teams

ITALY
15 David Odiete
14 Leonardo Sarto
13 M Campagnaro
12 Gonzalo Garcia
11 Mattia Bellini
10 Kelly Haimona
9 Edoardo Gori
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
EVEN
SCOTLAND
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Mark Bennett
12 Duncan Taylor
11 Tim Visser
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)

1 Andrea Lovotti
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Lorenzo Cittadini
4 Marco Fuser
5 Joshua Furno
6 Francesco Minto
7 Alessandro Zanni
8 Sergio Parisse (c)

ADV Scotland

ADV Italy
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV Italy
ADV Italy

1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 WP Nel
4 Richie Gray
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay
7 John Hardie
8 David Denton

16 Davide Giazzon
17 Matteo Zanusso
18 M Castrogiovanni
19 Valerio Bernabo
20 A Van Schalkwyk
21 G Palazzani
22 Edoardo Padovani
23 Andrea Pratichetti

ADV Italy
EVEN
ADV Italy
EVEN
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV Scotland
EVEN

16 Stuart McInally
17 Rory Sutherland
18 Moray Low
19 Tim Swinson
20 Ryan Wilson
21 S Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Peter Horne
23 Sean Lamont

Overall
Backs – advantage Scotland
There should be a definite edge for the dark blues – but the same could probably have been said for pretty much every Scotland v Italy game. The advantage on paper has to be realised on the pitch off the back of quick, clean ball from the pack.
Forwards – even
Scotland should take it in the tight 5 but the Italians can call upon a magnificent back row who will spend the afternoon spoiling and slowing ball while also creating a lot of their own side’s scoring opportunities.
Subs – even
In the pack it’s a bit of the reverse of the starting XVs – Italy will strengthen their front row in particular but the depth doesn’t extend to the same extent in the back row. The Scottish bench emphasises their superiority in the backs – but can they take advantage?

Team Talk
The number 11 shirt has its 3rd different incumbent of the tournament for Vern Cotter’s men but elsewhere in the starting XV it’s ‘as you were’ against Wales. There’s a veritbale revolution among the replacements though, with 4 new faces and Sean Lamont returning to the bench. Rory Sutherland will become the first new cap (but undoubtedly not the last) for Scotland in this RWC cycle. It’s all about the injury-enforced changes for Italy with 3 dropping out and 1 returning – and in Canna and Biagi they’ve lost 2 of their top performers from the opening rounds.

Italy Scouting Report:

  • The Italian scrum is far from the force of old. Scotland will be targeting superiority in this area.
  • Sergio Parisse is still the man – but is the way he dominates everything that Italy do entirely positive for the Azzurri?
  • Michaele Campagnaro is an outstanding talent but he nearly always turns down the opportunity to pass, freeing defenders to attack his running lines.
  • They are capable of dominating territory and possession – but usually as result of playing it safe, few passes and limited width meaning they don’t do much damage with the ball they have. Sound familiar?
  • Italian indiscipline is another dated trope to be consigned to the dustbin – they’ve kept their penalty count in single figures in both 6 Nations games so far.

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the 2 sides have met in Rome in the Six Nations. Scotland’s 3 wins are more than they have managed in 36 away games against the other sides in the tournament over the same period:

L W L W   L L L W

Most recent meeting at the Olympic Stadium:

Italy 20-21 Scotland

23 players return from that fixture – 11 for the home side and 12 for the visitors – the first time this 6 Nations Scotland have faced a side with a higher turnover of players than them. Richie Gray is the only Scottish forward to start both this game and that last win in the tournament 2 years ago.

Significant stats from that game
10 – points deficit at halftime overturned by Scotland
Scottish victories are rare. Scottish victories after being behind at halftime are even rarer. This was the biggest come from behind win in the 6 Nations for the national team. The flashes of creativity to take the lead and then composure to create and take the final scoring opportunity unfortunately proved to be yet another false dawn!

177 – tackles made by Italy. Scotland only made 80
Scotland dominated territory and possession but while they stretched the Italian defence there were only very rare occasions when it failed. Combined with Scottish profligacy and handling errors it meant chances to put the game away were missed. The team need to be more clinical on Saturday.

27 – touches for Stuart Hogg. No-one outside the half-backs played the ball more
If the Italians kick the ball to the Scottish full back they better be prepared to have it returned with interest. Hoggy is unquestionably the form back at the moment and can punish any Italian slackness with his running game or a booming right boot.

Officials:
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere (FFR), Nick Briant (NZR)
TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU)

Mr. Peyper has been something of a lucky mascot for Scotland in recent years – they have won 4 of the 5 games he has refereed. He’s hot on players going off their feet at rucks and also holding on – possibly meaning more opportunities for Scotland’s 2 x 7s setup. He’s fairly lax on the offside line though and the Scottish backs may need to be creative to find ways to beat an onrushing Italian defence. Mr. Hughes is back in the TMO’s chair again for the 2nd consecutive Scotland game – hopefully having been reminded of what constitutes offside in front of the kicker…

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