After two weeks of recriminations, heated debate and Jiffy bashing there’s finally an international rugby match to focus on. Much has been made about Italy’s current standing in the World Rankings and there have been comments here suggesting Scotland will have an easy time of it on Saturday. The optimism was only heightened when it was announced that the mighty Castro would not play because a dog had bitten his nose (Castro’s Nose is a great band name by the way – feel free to use it).
Anyone who watched Italy against England will know that the score didn’t tell the whole story of the match. Watching the game and looking at the stats it is clear that Italy posed a real threat and it’s not every day that a team puts three tries past an England team at Twickenham.
Scotland have yet to win but unlike previous tournaments there is an acceptance amongst the non-Scots press that this not down to any lack of effort or skill on show. Merely being able to compete with Wales and France is a progress of sorts. However in terms of recent form and World Rankings this is a game Scotland should win.
1. He’s Horney, Horney, Horney
Cotter’s selection of Horne ahead of Tonks seemed to take most by surprise with the versatile Warrior having played at the weekend. However his man of the match performance as well as his familiarity with those outside him seems to have played large in big Vern’s thinking. Horne’s selection also allows Cotter to continue with the organised chaos tactics he has so far employed. Horne is used to playing a high tempo offloading game with Glasgow where Townsend gives players the same freedom as Cotter to play the game in front of them rather than sticking to a defined game plan.
Italy look disorganised in defence and attack with a number of players seemingly unsure where they should be. This can be difficult to defend against but it also means gaps will present themselves in defence and attack and giving a player like Horne the ability to make on-pitch decisions will give Scotland the best chance of taking full advantage.
2. Walk the line
We’ve talked about Scotland’s resurgent line out in the previous weeks but the forwards have yet to capitalise on this in the way they did in the Autumn Tests. Italy lost three out of seven line outs on their own put in against England. It would be remiss not to stick the ball in the corner and put the Italian’s under some pressure.
3. Parisse in Springtime
Irish were able to shackle Parisse effectively but he was given too much freedom by England and they paid for it. However Parisse ain’t what he used to be and seems to be carrying a few extra pounds around the gut. His tackling rate seems to have dropped off as has his pace but you ignore him at your peril. Scotland will need a plan for targeting him at the breakdown and when he gets his hands on the ball. This may be easier than it has been in previous years but if they don’t it could be a very long afternoon.
4. Can they kick it? (No they can’t)
Italy continue their search for a reliable kicker. In some ways this plays into Scotland’s hands and may allow players greater freedom to play with the margins in areas where other teams might slot away a resultant penalty. However Scotland have not been beaten by opposition teams so far this 6 Nations as much as they have been beaten by their own indiscipline. Scotland would have beaten both Wales and France were it not for the high penalty count in kickable positions. Italy might not have a Halfpenny but Scotland cannot take their inability to kick at goal for granted.
A shout out to Andrew Cotter by the way for his insistence on referring to the Italian replacement fly half as Tommy Allen throughout the second half against England instead of Tommaso. Mr Cotter we salute you.
5. A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours
Luca Morisi poses the biggest threat from the Italian backs. He managed to run 67 metres against England and beat six defenders. No mean feat. Bennett has shown he can be a real threat in attack for Scotland but he has missed a few tackles and cannot afford to miss with Morisi coming towards him.
Scotland have shown themselves to be one of the fitter teams in the tournament and unlike previous years have been in a position to push for a win even when the clock and referee are against them. Italy’s lack of fitness showed in the later stages of the game against England and their already misshapen defence opened up even more. Even if Scotland are able to build an early lead they cannot afford to take their foot off the gas as they did against Argentina. The majority of England’s tries against Italy came late in the game and a big score line would give Scotland a lot of confidence in what has been a frustrating tournament so far.