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
England – 5
Ireland – 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 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).
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
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.