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)
Ireland – 5
England – 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.
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)
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 L W L L L W W
Most recent meeting in Rome:
Italy 20 – 36 Scotland
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)
Part II of the preview will follow on Friday once both teams are announced. The Scotland team was announced yesterday.