Prior to last weekend if you’d asked any Scotland fan which team they expect to beat during this year’s RBS 6 Nations, almost every single one would give you the same answer. Italy. Of course that was before the Italians humiliated the French in a manner not seen since the time of Julius Caesar.
So what do Scotland have to do to send the Azzurri back over Hadrian’s Wall tae think again? (That’s enough of the Roman references now – Ed.)
Italy conceded 10 penalties to France’s 4 but had most of the territory, giving Michalak little opportunity to kick for goal. Scotland need to take a leaf out of England’s book and go for territory first and possession second. If they can get into the Italian’s half they should get plenty of opportunities to get the score board ticking over, although ball-winning is still a concern.
France also won ball in Italy’s 22 33 times. Italy won ball in France’s 22 on only 13 occasions. There’s opportunity there if Scotland can make better use of it than the French.
2. Target Orquera
Listening to the pundits and you’d think Italy had found their own Dan Carter but Orquera is 31 and hardly a bright new dawn. He also plays number 10 for Zebre, who are currently bottom of the Rabo Direct Pro 12.
France gave him too much time on the ball and allowed him to dictate the game. Scotland will need Rob Harley to come out of the line quickly to put him under pressure getting Orquera to ground or forcing an error. The fiery blindside will be looking for an opportunity to make his mark and this would be a prime area to do it.
3. Patience in the scrum
There was some parity between Italy and France at the scrum but France eventually got the upper hand and a couple of penalties. When Castrogiovanni came off Italy really started to struggle.
Scotland’s scrum held up well against England and if they can get territory and position penalty chances will come. Another plus is the match referee Jaco Peyper who awarded Scotland that last minute penalty against Australia in the summer when they destroyed the Wallabies’ scrum.
4. Stop Parisse
Parisse; the Italian Bane. Wreaking havoc, breaking spines and tossing French rugby down to the bottom of a well from where it might never return. He made 104 metres on Sunday. Only England winger Mike Brown made more ground at the weekend. The stats also have him making three line breaks, scoring one try and setting up the other. Scotland cannot afford him the same freedom.
The battle with Beattie will be interesting. Beattie did make some ground on Saturday and offloaded well. Scotland need to find a way to get him into the sort of space Parisse enjoyed against the French.
5. Control the “Tackle Contest” aka the Breakdown
Scott Johnson does not like the word “Breakdown.” It’s too negative apparently. He prefers “Tackle Contest”. If naming rights are up for grabs I’d like to propose “Tackle Battle”. Call it what you want but this is likely to be our regular number 5 talking point throughout the tournament.
Scotland were slow to the Breakdown/Contest/Battle on Saturday and England were able to draw players in slowing down attacking ball and forcing David Denton into playing at scrum half. Scotland must be more aggressive, slowing play down in defence and speeding it up in attack.
Italy made 17 offloads on Sunday and England made 18 on Saturday. Scotland will need to get Italian players to ground quickly to prevent them getting the ball away. To do that tacklers need support ready to slow ball down and draw in attackers. Get Parisse into the Contest and Scotland will nullify his impact elsewhere.
Additional reporting: Scottish Rugby Blog staff
Scotland team to play Italy in the RBS 6 Nations Championship at Murrayfield on Saturday 9 February, kick-off 2:30pm: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Robert Harley, Kelly Brown (Captain), Johnnie Beattie
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Max Evans
Not considered due to injury: Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Peter Horne, Chris Cusiter, Dougie Hall and Chris Fusaro (all Glasgow Warriors), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh Rugby) and Scott Lawson (London Irish).
Italy : Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Gonzalo Canale, Luke McLean, Luciano Orquera, Tobias Botes; Andrea Lo Cicero, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Quintin Geldenhuys, Francesco Minto, Alessandro Zanni, Simone Favaro, Sergio Parisse (capt)
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Paul Derbyshire, Kris Burton, Gonzalo Garcia
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa). Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland) and Leighton Hodges (Wales). TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)