Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Italy: Six Nations 2019 Match Preview pt I

[Edinburgh, UK. March 18, 2017] Jonny Gray has a word with his troops during Scotland vs Italy in the RBS Six Nations Championship at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. (c) ALASTAIR ROSS | Novantae Photography Photo Credit: Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

KO 2.15 at BT Murrayfield
Saturday 2nd February 2019

Live on BBC1

This game will provide a new experience for Scotland fans. In the 20th edition of the Six Nations, the dark blues will start the tournament with a home game against Italy for the first time ever. The Italians have kicked off previous campaigns on the road in Dublin (3 times), Paris (3 times), Cardiff and London but never before in Edinburgh.

Number of times Scotland have played the other members of the Six Nations in the opening round of the tournament (home and away fixtures):

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

As pointed out in last year’s Scottish Rugby Blog preview for Round 1 these opening fixtures in the Six Nations have not been kind to Scotland. Just 2 wins in 19 attempts have killed momentum right at the very start of the tournament. A 20-16 triumph over France in 2006 and a 27-22 victory against Ireland in 2017 have been the only previous occasions the Scots have started the championship on the front foot.

On a more positive note, Scotland have won six in a row at Murrayfield in the Six Nations, a sequence which has seen them defeat all of the other competing nations at least once. That home form needs to continue if Gregor Townsend’s side are to be true title contenders.

Italy Scouting Report

Six Nations Struggles

Italy have yet to win a Six Nations fixture in the current World Cup cycle. In fact their losing streak extends back prior to RWC 2015 and totals 17 matches. It’s maybe worth remembering though that the last Italian victory in this tournament came at Murrayfield!

Scotland need to avoid the missed opportunities that blighted that smash and grab raid by the Azzurri four years ago and get the 2019 championship off to a flying start.

Paying the Penalty

Italian indiscipline may not be in the same league as back in the testosterone-fuelled era of Castrogiovanni and peak Parisse a decade ago. They are still most definitely not the referee’s friends though. Most likely to concede a penalty in last year’s tournament with 58. Least likely to be awarded a penalty themselves with just 36.

A lot of that difference comes just from the pressure Conor O’Shea’s men find themselves under. If Scotland are disciplined and keep putting Italy in difficult positions they will cough up penalties and therefore scoring opportunities.

Scotland v Italy, a mess at the breakdown? - pic © Al Ross
Scotland v Italy, a mess at the breakdown? – pic © Al Ross

Breakdown Battle

Scotland do not have their troubles to seek in the back row and the Italian breakaway trio will provide a serious test – whichever players are selected. One area that the Azzurri have toiled in recent time is in disrupting their opponents at the breakdown. Players like Sebastian Negri and Jake Polledri (currently injured) are magnificent beasts when it comes to ball-carrying and hitting hard in the tackle. Around the ruck and maul though they have been less influential.

During the 2018 tournament no side won fewer turnovers in these areas than Italy. In contrast Scotland were the team most likely to pinch opposition ball. Coming out well on top in this area could prove crucial to the outcome of Saturday’s match.


  • Conceded the most tries in last season’s 6 Nations (27 – which is more than France, England and Ireland combined).
  • The only team in the tournament not to win a penalty or heel against the head on their opponent’s put-in to the scrum.
  • Scored more tries (12) than both Scotland (11) and France (8).

Previous results

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

W W W   L W W   W L W

Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 29 – 0 Italy

Significant stat
4 tries – meaning this game provided Scotland’s first ever try bonus point in the Six Nations. There was another BP win for the dark blues in Rome last year. Prior to this era of settling the rankings Scotland only had three other Six Nations games where they scored 4 tries – two more against Italy (2003 and 2013) and one versus Ireland (2001).


Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant 1: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant 2: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

A brand new face for Scotland and Italy with Mr. Pearce making his Six Nations’ refereeing debut and taking charge of an all Tier 1 Test match for just the third time. The Welsh-born whistler has plenty of experience behind him though. He’s been officiating in the Premiership for more than 7 years; in the Champions Cup for over 5 years; and took charge of his first international fixture back in 2013. Although at 31 he’ll be considerably younger than some of the players in Saturday’s game!

Mr. Pearce has refereed Glasgow on a few occasions in the Champions Cup. The Warriors have done relatively well in the crime count over the years, covering games against Montpellier, Munster and Cardiff Blues. He’s a fastidious ref but one who will let the game flow and who tends not to be quick with the cards.

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on Friday after the team announcement on Thursday.

41 Responses

  1. Not exactly a genius comment here, but I guess Italy are perhaps hesitant at the breakdown due to the high number of penalties they tend to concede…

    I know we’re down a few expert scavengers, but most of our pack and a few of the backs are OK over the ball, and I agree we should really target this area, and not be afraid; at least not until it becomes a problem with Mr Pearce.

  2. Interesting that the three Scots in the picture (from the 29-0 win in 2017) are either injured or surplus to requirements. Barclay, Reid and Visser were all stalwarts that day.

  3. What’s the deal with Dunbar? A few weeks ago Dunbar and Jones were the nailed on starters for Scotland. Now Dunbar is out of the squad and off to Newcastle and Jones rarely starts for Glasgow. What’s going on?

    1. Dunbar was never a nailed on starter.

      Jones has never really shown much for Glasgow, Rennie prefers Grigg at 13.

      Jones is a different player in a Scotland jersey at Murrayfield.

      1. Hardly. That’s an overstated view. Jones is Glasgow’s marquee contract renewal. he started against Saracens at home (the biggest match of the season so far) and Grigg didn’t make the squad.

        Fancy Johnson to have a breakout six nations at inside centre.

    2. I think, reading between the lines, Dunbar was told by GT/coaches he needed to make changes to his game and/or attitude to be they player they need him to be. He hasn’t made those changes and so has dropped out the squad.

      He hasn’t been at his best level for many years….doesnt really deserve to play ahead of others.

      1. Our fabled centre depth is looking patchy at best now. Bennet – busted flush, Taylor – not likely to play test rugby again, Scott – not likely to strong a whole tournament together again, Dunbar – slow and past his best. Really we have Horne and Jones and that’s about it. Maybe Johnson will turn out good, McDowell should make it but guys like Grigg, Harris etc wouldn’t get a look in for other countries.

      2. Bit harsh to say Bennett is a busted flush. He’s a World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee, Olympic Silver medallist in 7s and he’s still only 25… he may not hit the heights once foreseen for him due to injuries, but time is on his side if he wants to try…

      3. Bennett is hardly a busted flush. He’s really young and he’s done his hamstring.
        He’ll be back.
        Stafford MacDowall is an excellent prospect.

      4. I’d have Dunbar over any of the alternatives at inside centre. Except maybe Peter Horne.
        To be fair, he hasn’t been quite the same since he came off against Saracens back in October. He’ll be back.

      5. Bennett a busted flush? Calm down.

        He’s been incredibly unlucky with injuries, but still has the potential to be a world class player.

      6. Bennett is not the player who won those accolades. After we two major knee reconstructions he’ll do well just to get capped again in a meaningful test. Sadly he’s not going to become the world class player he threatened to be. Very sad – but that’s sport.

        If he does I will be delighted but he should be at his peak. Time is most definitely running out for him.

      7. He had an excellent game against the All Blacks until he went off injured. I suspect he has a chronic injury which he is trying to manage. This usually leads to picking up lots of different injuries on top of it.

        I don’t think anyone would ever question Dunbar’s attitude. He was the defensive leader for Cotter and Townsend and has never gave any impression of an attitude problem.

      8. Which if our rivals would swap their centres for ours? Definitely not Ireland and Wales, suspect not England or even France anymore. Centre was once a position of strength for us but now we’re making par.

      9. A couple of years ago Dunbar was probably the best inside centre in Europe at what he did until he has been plagued with many bad injures and sadly never came back same player lost that yard of pace.

      10. I’m surprised you would say this FF. Bennett is a class act, and although he’s largely been out for 2 years with injury, can still come back from this. His try scoring record for Scotland bears comparison with the best, and at 25, still has time on his side.

  4. Hope not but Bennett might not fully recover from these injuries, he didn’t look back to his best months after coming back from the ACL.

    Dunbar has never looked the same after his ACL years ago. Or maybe quality of the squad has gone up massively since his earlier years in there and he’s been swamped by better players. Did someone mention there’s a question mark about his attitude?

    I liked Johnson or Horne inside Jones, that’s fine. Grigg and Harris no thanks. Surely the SRU have had some influence in Jones getting nice and fresh for the 6N Andy RWC 2019.

  5. I’d hate to think we’ve seen the last of Bennett in a Scotland jersey and can only hope he has enough time on his side to become a major figure again in the squad.
    Sadly it does look as if Dunbar’s international career is nearing or at the end. Such a shame for a player who played a key role in our resurgence on the Test scene.
    And Matt Scott? Another destined to fall away without reaching full potential at international level?
    All very disappointing for us fans, and goodness knows how much more disappointing for the players.
    These are indeed ‘the slings and arrows…’ of a contact sport at any level, not just professional.
    Hope all three, and Duncan Taylor, aren’t done yet; and that the others taking their places do well of course.

    1. I feel like all it will take is half a season of injury free club rugby for bennett, taylor and dunbar to get back on track. They are great players and a bit of continuity and confidence will surely have them in the 23 or thereabouts if all are fit.

      Taylor and Dunbar still have about 2-3 seasons ahead of them at top level if they can stay fit. Thats a big if…but surely the bad luck has to end.

      Bennett is only 25. So i’d be shocked not to see him again.

  6. It’s really unfortunate that Bennett, Dunbar and Taylor have all had wretched luck with serious injuries. On their day they have all been absolutely outstanding for Scotland and when fit would be have been among the first on the team sheet.
    I think the Newcastle move is a good one for Dunbar and hopefully the new environment and getting fully fit along with some more game time will see him feature again. I don’t know where Bennett and Taylor are on the recovery road but the former is young enough to come again and hopefully fulfil his potential.
    For me it has to be Horne and Jones to start in the centre on Saturday; I like Grigg but just don’t think he is big enough for international rugby. As for Chris Harris I have yet to see anything that would put him in the same sentence as international player but Tooney seems to rate him!
    Anyway will be at game on Saturday and hope we off to a flying start!

  7. I’d go H.Jones & S.Johnson in the centre, Johnson was Glasgow players player OTY last year & looks to have the game to get Hogg/Jones on front foot ball. Harris is no bad but profits from the paucity of options presently.
    I’d also start Graham & Hardie on Saturday, quick ball is crucial.

  8. Crazy to think how unlucky some of our players are with injury. The following players missed the majority of the listed 6N campaigns through injury (0-2 games)

    2016 – Brown, Gilchrist, Dunbar, Maitland

    2017 – Dickinson, Sutherland, Nel, Gilchrist, Laidlaw, Taylor, Bennett

    2018 – Dickinson, Dell, Brown, Turner, Nel, Fagerson,
    Gray, Dunbar, Taylor, Bennett

    2019 (likely) – Turner, Barclay, Watson, Taylor, Bennett, Dunbar

  9. I think Sam Johnson could have a great impact if he gets a start at 12, h’es a real threat going forward and has been one the Warriors best players over the past few years.
    Would also like to see Adam Ashe get a start at 8, when he’s injury free and gets a run of games he is top drawer. Him, Ritchie and Skinner could do some real damage as the back row and with Hardie on the bench I can see us getting loads of turnover ball… as long as Toonie leaves Wilson out!?!

    1. Completely agree about Johnson and I think he will link up well with Finn again and be able to be that second playmaker who can also hit some great lines himself. Defensively I think he is one of our best centres too.
      I can’t see GT dropping Wilson and would be surprised if the back row was anything other than Ritchie Wilson and Hardie which is pretty lightweight. Think GT will use Skinner as a second row and most likely sub behind Gilco and Gray although for the games against bigger packs (England) we might see Skinner at 6 for more bulk across the forwards

  10. Cautiously optimistic about this six nations.

    1. Man for man stronger with better experience and form all round.
    – Starting XV against Wales last year: Hogg, Seymour, Harris, Jones, McGuigan, Russell, Price, Reid, McInally, Welsh, Toolis, Gray, Barclay, Watson, Du Preez
    – Strongest XV available this year: Hogg, Seymour/Kinghorn, Jones, Johnson/Horne, Russell, Laidlaw, Bhatti/Dell, McInnally, Nel, Gray/Toolis, Gilchrist, Ritchie/Skinner/Wilson, Hardie, Strauss/Ashe.
    – More established players further from injury, emergence of new players and better in key positions – tighthead, 8, scrum half (with Price back in form too), FH (no distractions for Russell at Racing), centres and wing. The only arguably weaker position is LH, with hopefully the possibility of calls ups from Edinburgh. Hooker we lack depth, but not if Brown is back by next week. Inside centre we have two solid options.

    2. Schedule and momentum
    – Italy at home. By week 2 Ireland or England will have lost, France or Wales will have lost. Ireland, with WC in mind, is our most important game this year and it’s at home, but still everything to play for if it lost. Each away game banana skin, may not be – France probably out the running by week 3 (with Wales and then England) and England are probably out the running by the final game (with Ireland and Wales away).

    3. GT’s been talking up the injuries in the media, but they’re a bit of a red herring. If media anything to go by, no one really thinks we are contenders this year.

    Be interested to see a bottom up analysis rather than top down from the rankings (given infrequency of international matches and lack of collateral form).

      1. It’s innovative, why not? Many people in the game are stuck in their ways. Eddie Jones recently spoke about playing 9 forwards and 6 backs. Once back from injury I’d play Brown at scrum half, he’s got good hands from throwing darts and is short enough to bend down. He’d be at the foot of the rucks anyway to attack any loose ball, he’s good over the ball so another turnover option.

      2. Whoops – Maitland as first winger on team sheet, who could only make the bench last year.

  11. But if we are playing this game, Id be tempted to have the scrum half or wing chucking in all our notoriously poor line out throws.

  12. My team prediction. (not what i would pick)

    1. Dell
    2. Mcinally
    3. Nel
    4. Gray
    5. Gilchrist
    6. Wilson
    7. Ritchie
    8. Strauss
    9. Laidlaw
    10. Russell
    11. Seymour
    12. Johnson
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg

    16. Kerr
    17. Bhatti
    18. Berghan
    19. Skinner
    20. Hardie
    21. Price
    22. Horne
    23. Kinghorn

  13. Tuned into Jim Hamilton’s podcast this week (not sure why, it’s terrible). They’ve completel written off Scotland’s chances. in fact, they introduced the England-Ieland game as clearly the title decider and Scotland-Italy as the same for the wooden spoon. I know its not meant to be taken too seriously, but it does show that we’re still regarded that way by the other nations.

  14. Just saw the team… Both Hornes, Gray and Seymour all listed as injured on SRU site, so first XV selections make sense. Disappointed to see Graham on the bench. He’s going to have to turn in some unbelievable performances to get the fans on his side. Without PH in the 23 we need Hastings to cover stand off, and that means we need Harris to cover centre and wing.

  15. Was a good game but watching it and thinking about it where was the famous tartan army think i heard them 2 maybe 3 times??

    Lets hope they let ireland know they are playing scotland at home with the murrayfield buzz.

    I think scotland needed the crowd in the last 20mins as was shown by the quick kick away there was no reason to carry on the performance.

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