KO 2.15 (3.15 local time) at Stadio Olimpico
Saturday 22nd February 2020
Live on STV
Seven long years without a win at the Stadio Olimpico in the Six Nations. No, not Scotland – they’ve won their last 3 in Rome – but rather Italy who have lost 15 home matches in a row in the Championship dating back to Duncan Weir’s late, late drop goal in 2014.
Italian Six Nations’ wins by year during the 2010s (home and away):
- 2010 – 1
- 2011 – 1
- 2012 – 1
- 2013 – 2
- 2014 – 0
- 2015 – 1
- 2016 – 0
- 2017 – 0
- 2018 – 0
- 2019 – 0
Mind you the only time the Italians have come close to breaking their barren spell in Rome was two years ago against Scotland when it took Greig Laidlaw’s nerves of steel to pinch the match for the dark blues. Italy will be motivated for this one as their best chance of a Six Nations’ victory. Scotland need to perform in all areas to subdue their hosts.
Italy Scouting Report
Half Back Division of Labour
Callum Braley is relatively new to Test rugby and so far he has been deferring to his experienced stand off, Tommaso Allan, when it comes to the kicking game. In fact the Gloucester scrum half has only kicked twice so far in this Six Nations.
Ireland and Wales both lead from 9 in this area, while England, France and Scotland have a fairly even distribution of kicks between their respective half-backs. Italy are unique in putting so much at the feet of their number 10.
Allan has had the safety blanket of Carlo Canna outside him, more usually a standoff but deployed at inside centre by Italy in this tournament. It’s not an option that’s been used much for kicking though (in fact the 93kg Canna seems to have been reinvented as a crash ball centre!)
The Scottish back row (among others) will undoubtedly be keying in on Allan in kicking situations and he is likely to find himself under pretty severe pressure.
Italy have conceded 41 points in the opening quarters of their two matches so far. On the back foot pretty much from the off, they’ve allowed both Wales and France to dictate the vast majority of those games.
For Scotland the opportunity to get out in front and control the match would help to reduce the chance of nerves (or outright panic) setting in for what is a must-win fixture.
In the Italians favour for those early exchanges will be the lift that playing in Rome gives them. The tempo is likely to be ferocious from the first whistle. There’s also the issue that Scotland themselves can be pretty sluggish starters. If the dark blues can’t take advantage in the first 20 minutes or so it may come down to which side can handle the pressure best as it builds throughout the match.
- Italy lost 8 rucks/mauls to a French side that was very aggressive at the breakdown. If Scotland retain both Watson and Ritchie they need to turn the battle in Scotland’s favour in this area.
- Italy get a huge volume of carrying from their starting back row of Polledri, Negri and Steyn. 67 runs so far – and they’re tough to stop too.
- The Italians have chucked 29 offloads (the most in the tournament) and will look to keep the ball alive and change the point of attack. It’s reinvigorated their play going forward – but it remains a risky approach, as their 30 turnovers conceded attest.
This will be the 11th time the two sides have met in Rome for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:
L W L W L L L W W W
Most recent meeting at the Stadio Olimpico:
Italy 27 – 29 Scotland
53 – the number of seconds of possession in the Scottish half that Italy managed in the last 23 minutes of the game. After storming into a 24 – 12 lead early in the second half it felt like the Azzurri had blown themselves out a bit. There was still the usual belligerent defiance but they were almost powerless to stop Scotland’s progress – especially in the maul. Gregor Townsend will be hoping his side don’t wait as long to take charge of the match this time round!
The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee 1: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
The RWC encounter with Japan was the first time that Scotland have lost a match Mr O’Keeffe has taken charge of. The Kiwi eye doctor still favoured the dark blues in the penalty count – although unfortunately, they couldn’t take advantage…
Italian discipline, even under pressure, has been pretty reasonable so far in this Six Nations and they’ve only conceded one more penalty than their opponents. Scotland will need to push hard to really test the home side’s resolve as the hot-headed days of old seem to be behind them.
Scotland’s previous games with Mr O’Keeffe in charge:
- 2016 – beat Japan (A)
Penalties: 27 (For 16 – 11 Against)
Cards: Japan 2 YCs
- 2016 – beat Argentina (H)
Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
- 2019 – lost to Japan (A)
Penalties: 11 (For 7 – 4 Against)
With a full table of PRO14 fixtures this weekend too, here’s the team announced a day early. Toolis comes in for the injured Johnny Gray, while Chris Harris swaps for Huw Jones who drops out altogether.
Darcy Graham was adjudged not to have recovered sufficiently from his injury yet to be selected.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Magnus Bradbury.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Byron McGuigan
Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week, after the team announcements.