Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Italy v Scotland: Match Preview Pt I

John Barclay
John Barclay has a word with Referee, Matthew Carley, during Scotland vs New Zealand - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

KO 12.30 (GMT) at the Stadio Olimpico
Saturday 17th March 2018

Live on ITV

The final round of the 6 Nations is rolling around again, which if you’re a Scotland fan generally means one of two things: you’re on the road or you’re watching the team play against Italy; and then, of course, there’s the odd double whammy like this season.

This will be the 13th time since the year 2000 that the dark blues have ended their campaign away from home (winning 3 and losing 9 of those previous matches). On the six occasions they have finished up at home they’ve won 5 and lost 1. There are only 3 seasons when Scotland have hosted a side other than Italy at Murrayfield to complete their 6 Nations (2000 – England, 2001 – Ireland, 2015 – Ireland).

No point complaining about it, but it should add further motivation (if any were needed!) to change attitudes because Scotland will only be taken seriously in terms of the fixture list when they prove they can be contenders for the 6 Nations title.

Number of times Scotland have played the other members of the 6 Nations in the final round of the tournament:

Italy – 7 (including this season)
– 5
– 3
Wales – 2
France – 2

  • Scotland’s last defeat in Rome came back in 2012.
  • In the six seasons since then, Scotland have only lost one of their 9 fixtures against Italy – and have won the last 5 meetings between the two countries.

Italy Scouting Report

Beating South Africa

Italy’s victory over the Springboks in November 2016 should have been a springboard to more success. It was their first ever win in against any of the Southern Hemisphere’s big three – at the 43rd attempt. Just a week later came a first-ever loss to Tonga on home soil and it’s that result that seems to have set the tone for what has followed. Since beating South Africa the Italians have only managed a solitary victory (against Fiji) in 16 Test matches.

Benetton and Zebre

The two Italian PRO14 sides provide nearly the entire matchday squad* for Italy so their form / overall trajectory has a huge impact on the national side. Given that Benetton and Zebre have managed more wins this season in the league than in any other (with 10 games still to play) there are signs that the investment in youth and Conor O’Shea’s top down overhaul on the playing side just might be starting to bear fruit. Glasgow and Edinburgh have both had wobbly moments against Italian opponents. They should be well aware of the threats provided by some of the Azzuri’s newer players.

* Of the 23 that took on Wales in the last round the odd men out were the veterans Sergio Parisse (Stade Francis) and Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulon) plus Giovanni Licata who is Simone Favaro’s protege at the Italian state police’s rugby team Fiamme Oro.

Slow starts and tired finishes

Italy have begun every game this tournament by conceding at least 1 try in the first 10 minutes (England and Wales both notched up 2 scores in that time before the Italians got going). Tardiness after the kick off has meant Italy have barely managed to get their noses in front during this 6 Nations. Their 2 point lead over France for 19 first-half minutes in Marseille is the only time in 320 minutes that they have been ahead.

The final quarter has also been a struggle for the Azzuri. In the last 20 minutes of their matches so far they have conceded 9 tries (the 50 minutes between the two periods highlighted have seen 8 tries for Italy’s opponents). While it’s partly psychological – intensity dropping once there is no doubt about the result – there’s certainly a physical component to this. O’Shea has been working on his players’ fitness but they still struggle to stay with the other sides in the competition late on.

Sebastian Negri

One of the new generation of players that O’Shea has turned to as he tries to transform Italian rugby, Sebastian Negri’s performances in this season’s 6 Nations have hinted that maybe there will be life in the Italy back row once Sergio Parisse retires. Negri has outworked his more illustrious colleague in this campaign with the younger man putting in 69 carries and 52 tackles across the four games so far. 4 missed tackles against Wales does suggest there might be a little bit of fatigue creeping into his game though. Scotland will certainly hope that’s the case this weekend but whatever happens, they will be seeing a lot of the Benetton flanker in the coming years.


  • 73% kicking success rate (lowest in the 6 Nations)
  • Only attempted 3 penalty kicks at goal (lowest)
  • 49 penalties conceded (highest)
  • Scored at least 2 tries in each of their games so far (9 in total is more than Scotland and Wales)

Previous results

This will be the 10th time the two sides have met in Italy for a 6 Nations match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L W   W L L   L W W

Most recent meeting in Rome:

Italy 20 – 36 Scotland

Significant stat
36 points – the most scored in any 6 Nations game by Scotland.


Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant 1: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant 2: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

This will be the third time in Scotland’s last 6 Tests and the fifth time in less than a year that M. Gauzere has been the referee – Italy (H), Fiji (A), Australia (H), Wales (A) and now Italy (A).

After a flurry of sin bins and sendings off in previous matches M. Gauzere kept his cards in his pocket in Cardiff at the start of the 6 Nations. He did, however, continue to make it clear that he’s not keen on John Barclay’s breakdown work and the Scotland skipper will have been trying to work out the picture he needs to paint to keep the ref onside.

Last 5 Scotland games with M. Gauzere in charge.

  • 2016 v Ireland (A)
    Penalties: 22 (For Scotland 11 – 11 Against Scotland)
    Cards: Scotland 2 YC (Barclay, Dunbar) Ireland 1 YC
  • 2017 v Italy (H)
    Pens: 22 (For 9 – 13 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Barclay)
  • 2017 v Fiji (A)
    Pens: 23 (For 15 – 8 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Strauss) Fiji 2 YCs
  • 2017 v Australia (H)
    Pens: 18 (For 9 – 9 Against)
    Cards: AUS 1 RC + 1 YC
  • 2018 v Wales (A)
    Pens: 15 (For 8 – 7 Against)
    Cards: none

Part II of the preview will follow on Friday once both teams are announced. The Scotland team was announced yesterday.

26 Responses

  1. While it’s important not to write Italy off, anything less than a bonus point win would be a massive disappointment. On top of this, we really should be looking at our defence to keep them to as few tries as possible.

    Will be interesting to see how we change our game to suit the ref after his interpretation of the breakdown in Cardiff. Do we try to keep to the same style but modify it slightly to “paint the right picture” for him, or do we change how we compete completely to avoid penalties but limit the opportunity for turnovers? Would be nice to show that we can adapt how we play to suit the referee – vital for success in the long term regardless of whether we agree with their interpretation.

  2. I’ve a bad feeling about this game and I’m not sure why, there is no doubt we are the better ranked team on merit. Maybe its past nightmares against Italy. Hopefully we’ve learnt how to play Gauzere at the breakdown but he’s been in charge of our 2 worst performances in the last year. (Away to Fiji and away to Wales). Also surprised that Italy has scored more tries than us so far in the tournament. If our defense is slightly off and the passes don’t go to hand like last week then this could be a nervy encounter. Just hoping that our bench finish them off in the last 20.

    1. Yes….I’m with you on the ‘bad feeling’. I’d rather we kept chat about BP wins till after the match. I was as guilty as anyone of feeling confident going down to Wales. What emerged then was that our mindset was wrong, all the way from the fans through to the players. We need to stay edgy, humble and avoid counting any chickens till after the final whistle.

    1. I still haven’t forgiven him for Ireland in 2016. How can the man not know what constitutes a ruck?!

      1. Yes, but he is what he is. Given how often he has officiated us recently we can hardly say we don’t know what to expect.

      2. Can’t argue with that. If anything, that will make it even more frustrating when Barclay gets a YC for repeated infringements.

    2. If we kept losing with him reffing then fair enough and we should have adapted by now to his style but we’ve won with him officiating too. Australia and I’m sure there are more. I’m not actually sure if a bonus point makes any difference on table placing at all. Yes for confidence and to show how good we are great but nothing but a four point win will be what is needed for that.

      If we stay in touch at least in first 60 then we win as Italy still lose (discipline if not fitness as much these days) alot of points in this period.

      Italy are dangerous make no mistake. They have created so much this six nations they just can’t defend or keep discipline yet. We just can’t afford to be chasing game against a team we are expected to beat. As has been proved that is asking for a perfect storm.

      1. BP could be the difference between 3rd and 4th, if: (a) Ireland beat England, (b) France beat Wales, and (c) Wales get a losing BP. If (a) and (b) are reversed, then if France get two BPs (tries and losing), then would be the difference between 4th and 5th.

      2. Agreed re. Not wanting Ireland to get another slam. They will match our GS total otherwise. I take solace in th fact we are officially not the worst home nation…yet…

  3. Unrelated to this, but I’m glad to see two-time Pro12 champion DTH van der Merwe back at Warriors. Does this mean Sarto’s fer the off?

    1. I think Sarto is out injured for the rest of the season. There is also the factor that a bunch of the Glasgow boys, including Horne, Jones and Jackson, are off to the Commonwealth Games 7s in April. So suddenly there are spots up for grabs.

      1. Sending Glasgow or Edinburgh players to the 7s is ridiculous and undermines the importance of the Pro14.

      2. Stuart
        I don’t have a problem with any Glasgow players going to the commonwealth games.

        The Rugby 7s event is from the 13th to 15th of April so they are only going miss 1 match for Glasgow, a home tie against Connacht, and they are 12 points ahead of Munster with just 5 games left so you’d be shocked if they don’t top their conference.

        Edinburgh on the other hand are still in a battle for a top 3 spot and have a tough season defining match against Scarlets that weekend so only fringe players who are outside of their best 23 like Bryce, Graham, Shiel etc. should be allowed to go.

        Personally think Scotland winning a medal there will not only give the players a huge amount of confidence and vital experience but get a lot of youngsters interested in playing the sport.

        Lets not forget how beneficial the sevens game has been for us in recent years. These days talented youngsters who can’t get a game for their pro club are often sent off with the sevens instead of spending time with an amateur club and it has worked wonders for many players such as, George Horne whose season with the sevens last year has propelled him into one of our best scrum half’s and winning the london 7’s clearly gave him much needed confidence. Other players such as Magnus Bradburry, Grigg and Blair Kinghorn have spent large periods of their development with the sevens it has massively improved their game also.

        Would love to see players like Huw Jones, Hogg, both Horne’s, Grigg, Seymour and Price to be sent to the commonwealth games and bring the gold back to Scotland and inspire the next generation

      3. That Common Wealth games squad looks strong. Would love to see Horne and Graham on the pitch at the same time. Thought if Horne chose 7s route he’d become one of the best 7s players in the world, Graham is not quite as dynamite but still fantastic player.

      4. If Glasgow can spare them then why not. I suspect they will miss more than one game as they’ll be in training with the 7s team for about a month. Surprised Bennett didn’t make the team but maybe Edinburgh kept him for the run in. Anyway looks like the Scotland boys will be back playing for their clubs pretty quickly to close out the season.

  4. Good point about the way fixtures are drawn up. But looking at next year’s given three home and two away is this not the order you would hand pick?

    Italy first at home.
    Ireland at home
    France away third
    Wales at home fourth
    England away last.

    Obviously winning or losing makes the draw but it gives us the best chance of being well in it at the business end.

    1. Momentum (and making a good start) in such a tough tournament is key.

      Given that this is the case, I wonder if the Six Nations organisers can explain why Ireland have had Italy first up in 7 out of 19 championships…and Scotland only once?

      It’s not all about rigging the final day’s fixtures either…England have only had Italy first up on three occasions.

      1. Also, Eng v Ireland is always during Cheltenham week where half the Irish Nation are across

    2. It’s about time we played Italy first up!
      It is a 6N 19 sequence most Scots would pick given a choice, I agree.
      Disappointing that with the possible exception of the Argentina Test, our summer tour won’t be as challenging as those undertaken by the other top NH sides. Bright side of that must be the chances to award caps to up and comers and assess them.
      Plenty of time and staging points for development of a strong RWC 2019 Scotland squad – summer tour, AIs, 6N 19 and then ‘warm-up’ internationals.
      In the very short term, I will be in Rome hoping to see a good win and delivery of two consecutive 6Ns where we’ve won more matches than we’ve lost. Not sure if we’ve done that yet; suspect not.

  5. Everybody says the next step for us is to win away against a good team. Not so sure. I think its to comprehensively beat teams we should beat. We need to be more ruthless than we have been in the recent fixtures against the likes of Samoa or Fiji. And Italy frankly sit in that set of teams in terms of results over the last few years.

    Maybe its doesnt sit well in our psyche but we need to be cruel if Italy fall off and not start mucking about or taking the foot off.

    1. Exactly right.

      No half hearted nervous displays.

      Clinical professionalism should be demanded….we have, after all, won 10 of our last 11 internationals against the Italians…and we all know we should also have won on the sole exception in that run….

      1. Ah, but the English/Irish/Welsh media were all distracted by their players being on the Lions tour. If they didn’t notice, then didn’t really happen, right? It’s not until we beat one of them away that they’ll actually care. (Ignoring the fact of course that away wins in the 6N are rare)

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion