Italy v Scotland: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

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.

Slow Starts

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.

Miscellaneous

  • 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.

Previous results

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

Significant stat
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.

Officials

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)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Japan (A)
    Penalties: 11 (For 7 – 4 Against)
    Cards: none

The Team

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.

Tags:

When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

137 comments on “Italy v Scotland: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

  1. Archieb57 on

    Massive game for both sides. We win, sets us up for last 2 games wi confidence. We lose, can see this being Toonie’s ‘downfall’ moment!

    • Neil on

      I dont see why winning this game sets us up with confidence to beat France or Wales, Italy are useless and we could probably put out our worse 23 and still get a result.

    • Spats01 on

      The only reason this game may be in doubt is because of the absence of playmaker and Scotland star, Finn Russell. Results not personalities and hidebound managers win games.

      • Cherry and White on

        The worst scottish rugby fans are the ones living away from Scotland, who make no contribution to local clubs. They do not know what it is to support or coach, or do clubhouse hospitality for example or even occasionally supporting pro teams.

      • WestCountryTartanArmy on

        Lol at Cherry. Please post something negative about booing kicking/loss of rugby values and something against football in general and you’ve done the hat-trick. When will small minded rugby fans get over themselves and allow the nation (and extended diaspora) to get behind Scottish Rugby? When will you realise that by trying to keep it to a few Borders farmers and Edinburgh Tories you are stalling progress for Scottish rugby? Sometimes it really feels as though the ‘traditional’ rugby types in Scotland would rather we keep losing as long as they have their sport, their values and they can turn their noses up at anyone who doesn’t meet their strict criteria (whether that be necking a pint of piss out of a dairy farmers ass crack or forking the pitch at Provincial Old Boys XV).

  2. Sam Laycock on

    It may not be popular but I hope he goes with Gilchrist and Toolis in the row. We need to sure up our set piece, particularly line out and they are our best combo for that. I think Scotland need to be pragmatic and patient for this game. Play in their half, take the points and turn the screw in the last quarter. Will need an 80 minute performance but if we hold our bottle we will get it done.

  3. FF on

    Gutted Darcy hasn’t made it because of injury, nor skinner who I guess is working his way back to full fitness.

    Harris really needs a big game to repay the faith Toonie has shown in him. Jones played in two games, didn’t do a whole lot wrong but barely received a pass. Hutchison needs to be given a chance, it is frustrating that we’ve barely seen him whilst our attack has spluttered to a halt.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Scotland’s more direct approach will pay off here. Italy’s pack is nowhere near the weapon it used to be, but their dangerous back row made mincemeat of ours on our last visit.

    • James on

      I agree, FF. Harris needs to put in a performance otherwise all the comments on this forum will be back to Toonie and his favourites and not picking form players. With only one centre on the bench hopefully we will see more of Hutchinson. And that Darcy and Skinner get some game time this weekend ahead of the last two rounds.

    • Neil on

      It does not matter if he has a big game or any of the players here … it is against Italy FFS, players need to shine in the tough games to repay faith in my opinion.

  4. Fat Jez on

    Just what does George Horne have to do to get a start? Townsend’s approach to selecting favourites harks back to the days of Andy Robinson’s method of only playing his tried and tested combos and being reluctant to bring new blood into the side.

    • Scotty on

      Not massively surprised that G Horne isn’t starting. International rugby is so “kick heavy” and his boot is the worst part of his game. I do, however, think he should be given a lot more than 10 minutes at the end to make something happen in matches. The old “running at tired legs” nonsense doesn’t really count if he only touches the ball three or four times.

      Never exciting to see Toolis starting but hopefully he can help out in the lineout and show his work rate round the park allowing Cummings to do the carrying etc.

      Harris, in my opinion, is a really negative step. He would have been significantly more suited to the England match where physicality and edging over the gainline was so pivotal. That was not a game for Huw. Italy away, on the other hand, (assuming significantly better weather) IS 100% a game for Huw. There will be gaps in the defence which he and Johnson would have a field day exploiting. Chris “route 1” Harris will not.

      I have read on other posts “fans” are hopeful of a Scotland loss so that the SRU have no option but to sack Toony and get a new coach. It generally really pisses me off reading that nonsense but every so often I start to see their perspective!

      • Not rocket science on

        It’s not nonsense. It’s what I’m hoping for. I won’t watch game because will involuntarily cheer Scotland. Rationally, want a loss. Especially with selections.

      • Scotty on

        The nonsense is perhaps personified by the fact that things have gotten so bad that fans are turning against there own team in order to get change. The fact that the SRU blazers cannot see this and will likely not act if we beat Italy is definitely nonsense.

  5. tasmanian tiger on

    It almost seems that Townsend goes out of his way to f… people off. With the raft of talent we have available at centre and he chooses Harris. How can he seriously justify that selection. I am not in the same camp as some posters and hope we get beat to put the final nail in Townsends coffin however the guy is completely blinkered in his selections which amongst other things will be his ultimate undoing.

  6. Scrummo on

    Pleased to see Toolis come in, with Gray out he is the only other tighthead lock in the squad and will strengthen our set piece, given our woeful line out and a strong Italian scrum this is no bad thing.

    Disappointed to see Harris in at 13, he’s a much better player than given credit for but I would have loved to see either Scott or Hutchinson come into the centres somewhere to inject a bit of x-factor.

  7. Big Al on

    Hope those not playing get released back to their clubs for the weekend and are not all on a jolly to Rome. Pro14 action continues with games to be won.

    Not seeing what Toony sees in Harris or McGuigan but maybe this will be their weekend! Good to see Matt Fagerson on the bench although Haining probably feels hard done by. Surprised that Graham and Skinner didn’t at least make the bench. I guess Brown is the fall guy for the lineout issues although I’m not sure McInally was any better when he came on. Think it is significant that McInally has been named Vice Captain. The team needs more leadership amongst the forwards.

    • Take the points on

      From the Ref mike against England it was clear that there was no leadership in the forwards, as silent as mice, England on the other hand could give you a headache. I dont think it’s just in the forwards I’m struggling to see a leader who commands respect anywhere across the pitch

  8. john martin on

    Huw Jones must be shaking his heid.
    Harris is a good player but doesn’t offer what Jones, Hutchinson & Scott do. Unless we are going to go route 1 from the outset I don’t understand.
    Haining out all together is funny too, he was excellent vs Scarlets & is unlucky. No Crosbie either………
    George Horne is electric, all this its a kicking game at international level is interesting, why don’t we try keeping the ball in hand???
    GT must have his fingers crossed that his “selections” win this game well against a poor Italy.
    Not the 23 I’d have chosen but I’m not on GTs wage

  9. Virverax on

    The deeply cynical part of me sees this as a selection to mitigate the possible risks of losing rather than one to go there and set out the stall for a win. Incurably optimistic nevertheless I feel after a good win here we could really give the French a game at Murrayfield and and who knows what after that? But a loss here and it all turns to ratsh*t again. Don’t think I can take much more of this :(

    • Rob on

      Don’t think Toonie really knows what he is doing. 2wks ago was Harris’s game as well as Matt Scott. Saturday is not Harris’s game. It is Jones’s game. One day Horne will need to start due to injuries and he will have little or no experience at that. If Price is to spend Saturday kicking then ….. what amateur tactics!!!

      • john martin on

        Correct 100% Rob.

        I have to hope GT “knows” what he is doing & we win V Italy giving us a 2 narrow defeats – 1 win thing going into the final 2 games. However I do not think GT knows what he is doing.

      • Big Al on

        I’d have started Horne for this one. His scoring rate against Italian teams in the Pro14 is excellent. Unfortunately this looks like a conservative team selection aiming for route 1, kicks to the corner and a functioning lineout. Clearly Toony has changed the game plan whereas most of us want the team to cut loose and play to its potential against lower ranked opposition.

  10. Neil on

    Well it looks like we are turning our gameplan into Gatlandball style.

    This will be a comfortable win but we are losing out on a golden generation of exciting backs.

    As i said previously Chris Harris could have a good game here and probably will, but it does not matter against what is effectively tier 2 opposition.

    What will happen next is Harris will start against France and Wales, just watch.

    Boring rugby for the next 4 years under townsend it is.

  11. Macca1 on

    Hutchinson has improved incrementally this season in both his attacking and defensive play unsure why Harris is preferred.
    As mentioned is the game plan to avoid losing or rather can they replicate the first 15 minutes in Dublin and hopefully get over the white line.

      • CrazyP on

        its 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. From his 17 starts this season he has 1 at 15, 7 at 13 and 9 at 12. Which makes him a better option at both inside and outside centre than Johnson, Jones or Harris.

  12. CrazyP on

    I don’t hate the selection, I just don’t understand it. I am a big Harris fan but If Jones was the man 3 weeks ago what has he done to not be the man now? You cant read anything into England and he was fine albeit unspectacular against Ireland. He needs a run to re-bed into the side (I know its an all Glasgow midfield but he seems to be a confidence player). Smells like a coach who is scared to lose rather than trying to win.

    • Ian on

      Agreed, I had thought the Tombola had been put away forever with the realisation it had done us no favours. But in reality all we got was one consistent selection against England.

  13. Rosco on

    Quite surprised at how negative some selections appear to be. Horne, Hutchinson, Haining are ideally suited for this game. If Horne and Hutchinson don’t come on super early in second half be well hacked off.

    Loved to have seen Horne, Hastings, Kinghorn, Scott, Hutchinson, Maitland, Hogg.

    Can only assume Skinner and Graham were deemed not fit enough. Though Skinner has been back a few weeks. So bench spot at least?

    Haining has been a real threat so disappointed he’s dropped.

    Townsend looking for pay off

  14. Stripe on

    My reaction to GT’s 23 for the game against Italy can be summed up in one good Scots word: “Whit?”

    The only positive I can see is that Rambo starts at hooker. That said, the rest of the changes puzzle and concern me in roughly equal measure.

    Haining must wonder what he’s done wrong. If so, he’s not alone in that thought. He played well against Ireland, had little chance to make an impression against England (in a game he should have started) and now finds himself outside the 23. I’m not against giving Fagerson a run (from the bench, anyway), but surely Bradbury should have been the one to drop out of the 23 to accommodate him.

    Jones did okay in the two matches thus far, albeit he’s not yet back to his best. Starting him against Italy would have given his confidence a boost and, who knows, might have resulted in him turning in the sort of performance that we all know he’s capable of. Harris is a trier, the sort of shoulder-to-the-wheel sort of player that would have been better suited to the conditions at Murrayfield the weekend before last than to a sunny day in Rome.

    Harris’s selection in midfield might explain why Greg Horne is on the bench. Personally, I’d have started with Horne and either Jones or Hutch in midfield in the hope of building up an early lead against Italy, whose defence has been notably porous in the first quarter of this year’s 6N games. If Italy get off to a good start then we may well struggle to overhaul them.

    • Stripe on

      Continuing the above, I have to say that I’m surprised that Skinner hasn’t been included. He may not be ready for a full 80 at test level, but he’d be an excellent option to bring on after, say, 55 or 60 minutes.

      I assume that Darcy Graham remains on the injured list, and I know the cupboard is pretty bare when it comes to wingers…but surely there’s a better option available to us than McGuigan? To my eyes, he’s like Harris – solid but uninspiring.

      What’s done is done, though, leaving only one question on the table: can Toony’s 23 beat Italy on their patch?

      Maybe, but I hae my doubts.

    • Stu2 on

      I thought M Fagerson had a fantastically aggressive performance against Zebre – OK, it was only Zebra but he looked very fired up.

      Bradbury is better than Haining IMO.

      • ScotsWayHay on

        I’ve not seen anything of Fagerson to say he is international standard. Bradbury has shown inconsistent flashes.

  15. SlimJim on

    the other thing I wonder if it could be is Townsends rigid squad rotation. As in a test match where he seems to make changes based upon the clock rather than the performance I wonder if perhaps he always intended on using a different group of “fringe” players. I use the term fringe for lack of a better alternative. Eddie Jones said he was going to do something similar with the England squad looking very different after the half way point. That said England dont seem to have done it, so far anyway. If ever there was a year where we could do with a nice T2 summer tour is 2020.

  16. Busy Little Bee on

    Not much to add to what everyone has already said. I don’t mind Harris but this is the one test match we’ll play this year I don’t see the point in him. Last time I saw him he was getting mugged by a 10st Japanese winger.

    As someone who has a decent bet on Scotland finishing bottom Townsend is doing us proud.

    Wonder what work-ons he’s sent Haining away with. ‘Nick stop being so progressive, aggressive and effective. We’re all about powder-puff carries, dropped restarts and having a parent as a Dodson cronie’. Nothing specific against Bradbury himself mind, just considering he ain’t been all that convincing…….

    • Neil on

      I agree graham, would much rather have had Haining starting & Bradbury on bench, I thought Walter Mitty had started to pick on form but no…

      Surely you give Hutchison a go at 13 against Italy on a LOVEly summers day if your going to drop a player who is an attacking 13..

      If Matt Fagerson is considered fit enough after one game to be back in the 23… what has Skinner done wrong ? We needed an abrasive lock in that pack.

    • Scrummo on

      Yes clearly acceptable international level performances against Ireland and England suggest he’s a good club player. New levels Stu.

      • Stu2 on

        He was barely on against England and now his performance is getting talked up.

        Fagerson and Bradley are talents that need exposure to test rugby.

        Those are the least controversial selections.

  17. TeamCam on

    I agree with a lot of what’s written here. Toonie’s selections are a bit confusing. I can’t see why Jones has been dropped in favour of Harris. Not sure why Horne is again relegated to a bench spot or if he’ll even make it on. Not sure why Brown has been dropped for McInally, or why Tuner isn’t involved. It just seems like Toonie can’t commit. Glad to see Nel on the bench over Berghan, though.

    • Johnny b on

      His selections look impulsive at times.
      I think Toonie is clearly an innovative coach with some good ideas, but if he doesn’t turn it around and he goes at the end of the 6N there will be one reason…

      Selection.

      Harris for Jones is not a small change. It completely alters the balance of the team, is much more defensive and is going to change the way they play.

      • Rory Baldwin on

        You’re spot on Johnny, most folk had given Townsend some credit for selections in the first two rounds along with picking a squad largely based on form but now this feels like a step backwards.

      • Stuart on

        He seems to have switched to a game plan of kicking for territory, based on analytical work. He came in with a mantra of fast rugby because we don’t have a big pack – which is a cornerstone of the successful kicking sides. Townsend just looks confused and is wasting some super-talented backs. Japan schooled us in fast rugby. We should be looking to play quickly but temper it with some pragmatism based on field position, weather, opposition etc

  18. Johnny b on

    Fagerson – great. A real prospect.
    I’d like to see Crosbie.
    Apart from that, are we moving from the fastest game in the world to Warrenball?
    Probably bad Warrenball, because it doesn’t suit the kind of players we have?

    I thought we’d see the tombola mid tournament but also thought changes would be within a pattern.

    I hope Townsend has a plan.

  19. Lochinverboy on

    Really conservative stuff from GT. Toolis is a good call as our lineout has been a shambles. But Johnson and Harris? That didn’t work in the RWC and won’t open Italy up on Saturday. Matt Scott and Hutchinson are the form pics and must be deflated. Surely Townsend knows that his expansive game will prosper with a strong pack and we are getting there. This is the time, particularly without Russell that you need creativity in the centres. Scott and Hutchinson are provide that in spades, Johnson and Harris don’t. But what do I know, Townsend and his team have called it and I hope it works. Very much looking forward to it. The defensive improvements against both Ireland and England are a movement in the right direction. Let’s hope our backs get a chance to shine.

    • Alanyst on

      GT has now proven beyond any doubt that he puts adherence to his prescribed rules and systems above the potential to perform.

      His centre selections confirm that…Johnson/Harris embodies compliance. Hutchinson/Jones might do something unexpected.

  20. Fraser on

    As everyone has said, negative conservative selection.
    Skinner is surely fit enough now and much better than the other options even if not 100%
    Horne absolutely should be starting – frankly kicking the ball all the time is the last thing we should be doing and Price kicks a lot but not very well…
    Haining unlucky, but equally Bradbury and Fagerson both going well so a hard decision.
    Don’t even want to get started on Harris, but Hutchison should be getting his shot.
    I don’t see how we are ever going to progress as a team if these young talented players aren’t given a chance until they get dumped in the team in an emergency situation (and don’t do well since they haven’t had any game time previously).

    Shame Graham isn’t back – frankly I would rather see George Horne get some time on the wing than McGuigan….

    I’m pretty sure we will win, but what is it going to achieve long term?

    • James on

      Perhaps on Skinner FT is still feeling burnt by taking players not 100% fit to Japan and doesn’t want to risk it again. Different scenario I know but could be a reason.

  21. Stu2 on

    I see Toonie has trotted out the trained well card for Harris – training well is coach code for I am going to pick him and I dont care what you think.

    It’s well known 6Ns matches are won on the training field.

  22. JohnMc on

    Just seems like Gregor Townsend has realised after two years in charge that any fancy-dan, fastest rugby in the world stuff relies on a pack that can compete. We’re getting there up front now and I wouldn’t complain if we played a grunt game on Saturday and bullied our way to a good win.
    Essential we win on Saturday. For all sorts of reasons.

  23. Scottie on

    Was despondent with the selection but more so on some of these posts.

    Bradbury has potential but has not delivered a full 80. Not proven he is an 8 either. Not proved anything but has physical attributes to be phenomenal with the right attitude and coaching.

    M Fagerson gets schooled by any other international 8, he’s far too small. Anyone watch against Sarries?

    Haining leads by example. He’d be one of the first on my team sheet

    Rambo was broken at WC, his throwing no better or worse than Brown. Is he really fit?

    Really hope Harris and McGuigan shine. Feel for them but heart would love Scott and Jones to rip it up.

    Toolis? Got size and presence but appears feeble, I might be disingenuous but we need something more on the abrasive side

    Kinghorn not comfortable on the wing.

    Hope I’m proved wrong but the selection is damage limitation, rather than who cares: we’ll score more.

  24. Munro on

    Surely the Harris selection is just Townsend and his ego flicking a ” V ” sign to everyone and saying, ” I was right all along and you can all do one.” Sad to contemplate that this could be true but I honestly think this is what it boils down to.
    No doubt he will play well against a poor Italian side and our wondrous leader will feel vindicated. More convinced that ever we need to get rid.

    • Neil on

      I am convinced it is an ego thing at this point.
      I actually think Chris Harris has improved and gotten more comfortable in a Scotland jersey.

      But Hutchison/Jones/Bennett are just on another level in attack if given opportunity.

      • Munro on

        Agree Neil.
        Why are we even picking a defensive centre against Italy. Are they really that scary at 12 and 13 ?. Are we expecting the Italian pack to over run us and be on the defensive in the backs for the full 80 minutes ?.
        At a push, and really at a push, Harris should have been involved in the gale that was The Calcutta Cup.
        He has got better – you would expect this after 16 odd caps – first and foremost though he is a Premiership standard player and no more. We have so many better options on the international stage.
        At his own cost, Townsend will learn that pride comes before a fall.

  25. Neil on

    I just want a coach who picks the right players and instills a good culture into a team, then gives them some freedom to play whats in front of them…

    Oh hang on .. we had one..

    • Johnny b on

      Cotter’s selections were not uncontroversial at times.
      Perhaps there seemed to be more of a pattern to what he was doing, although he also placed a premium on the kind of high work rate physical centre that Harris is.
      He usually picked Dunbar or Scott, then later in he brought Duncan Taylor into the side.

      The difference is that he picked these players alongside Bennett or Jones, rather than instead of them.

      Townsend has Matt Scott available and in form.

  26. Jamco on

    Toolis is a no brainer as the only lock left who packs down at 5. You don’t go into a game against that Italian pack without a tighthead lock.

    I’m sure I read somewhere earlier in the week that Jones has been struggling with injury, and I wonder how many of those hyping Hutchinson have actually been watching him. He’s lethal in attack but there are some major frailties in his defence, it’s improving but well organised sides like Ireland or Wales would cut him to pieces. Likewise anyone who has watched Gloucester consistently will know Harris is a very good player.

    Horne is a superb and very exciting player but his kicking is by far the poorest aspect of his game and whether we like it or not an international 9 has to be able to kick these days.

    • Warks Scot on

      Thanks Jamco for an insight into the Premiership players; I suspect a lot of comments are based on perceptions rather than a proper look at an individual’s consistent level of performance. I can’t imagine that Gloucester would persist with Harris at 13 unless he has some genuine talent, even if not of the eye-catching variety. I would like to see Hutchinson & in particular Scot given some game time but would be really happy for Harris to prove the doubters wrong.
      Can’t imagine Skinner being ready yet after a long lay off & OK with Toolis being called into starting 15; proven line out operator as well as tight head lock & never been convinced that Gilchrist offers much more.

      • Fraser on

        There’s a big difference between a player that is good at club level and one that is a good international.
        Personally I haven’t seen anything from Harris that shows he is more than a placeholder for Scotland. Not suggesting he is terrible, but never going to reach the next level.
        Given there are at least 4 or 5 other options that either have more potential or have previously shown top level ability, it’s very hard to justify Harris being selected above them.
        Regarding Skinner, there’s no consistency as Fagerson has also just come back from injury and has been selected.

      • Stu2 on

        Glaws are a club side – nobody is suggesting Harris isn’t good enough to play club rugby.

        Skinner was out since Aug – Fagerson was just a few weeks.

    • tasmanian tiger on

      You just copy and paste the same mince on multiple sites do you. If you haven’t noticed we are not playing Ireland or Wales so whats your point. Hutchinson voted player of the month in the Premiership….Harris solid journeyman. I know who I would rather have in the team.

      • Jamco on

        There is no need to be like that, the above is only my opinion.

        I would like to see Scott involved as well but as good as Hutchinson has been in attack this season he’s been playing at 12 and I think from watching that his defence would be exposed, not by Italy but by other sides and there is little point bringing him in just for the Italy game.

        I think a lot of people are falling into the hype for Hutchinson but I wonder how many have watched him regularly this season (at 12). Conversely lots of people bemoan Harris but he’s been great at Gloucester (at 13).

      • Jamco on

        If all you watch is the English highlights then you’ll no doubt rave about Hutchinson’s flair but the international game is ruthless when it comes to defence as we have seen with Huw Jones and is not as strong in that department. He is improving and I am sure will come good for Scotland there in time but crunch games at the tail end of the 6N are not the time, he would be targeted.

        If you watch Harris at Gloucester he has incredible work rate in defence as well as being a big tackler, we have missed this since Dunbar was in the side. He also runs very, very good hard running lines challenging the gainline. A very good player.

      • CrazyP on

        I’ve watched every televised prem match this season. Harris isnt a journeyman, he left Newcastle because they were relegated and wen to one of the best attacking sides in the league. Hutchinson has played almost equal games at 12 & 13 this season (9 & 7 I think). Hutchinson at 12 and Harris at 13 would be my midfield on form. Scott has been very good too. It amazes me how many folk on here make observations on English domestic rugby without watching any of it. Or if someone advocates selecting an English based player they shoot them down as only watching the highlight real. Hutchinson has been THE form centre in England for over a year now.

  27. Pete on

    Beginning to think the anti GT rhetoric is getting OTT. I appreciate it was a disastrous WC but don’t think his selection for this game is too far off. Personally would have preferred to retain Jones but Harris has been playing well for Gloucester. As for Hutchinson starting I don’t agree as I feel his form has dropped off from the start of the season – last game YC for high tackle and a fumble on his line led to a try (appreciate he was a key part to the build up of their try). Re Skinner he probably still needs more game time as he isn’t a guaranteed starter at Exeter since return. Hopefully a couple of wins and some positive rugby helps lift spirits!

  28. Not rocket science on

    Here’s a thought – I wonder if GT has been given the old heave ho already? But allowed the Italy game to go out on a relative high. So he’s picked his midfield. Hence Cotter’s earlier departure from Montpellier, with move to Fiji hijacked. Stranger things…

  29. WeeAl on

    Byron Macguigon? seriously?! How is Huw Jones dropped for Harris? Jones is a class player just hasn’t had much ball. This is a dull selection.
    I can’t fathom how fastest brand of rugby (however silly and naive) has been replaced by this conservative selection. GT seems to have no clear plan, he’s flip flopping from game to game making odd decisions. As ever, huge hopes before the tournament, and now we’re all just a bit bored.
    The Finn debacle is also frankly not effing good enough. Gt’s job is to manage, and a good coach would find a way of unleashing the best of Finn. I know he’s been a bit of a baby about all this but ultimately he’s a great player, and he should be starting. He’s Scotland’s answer to Michalac: irritating, sometimes crap, but at his best he can pull off some truly sublime rugby that most could only dream of. Hastings is solid, but doesn’t have that mercurial flair. Frankly, a bit fed up with this school teachery approach of GT’s. I hope I’m proved wrong but I don’t see a bunch of tries coming our way…..

  30. Johnny b on

    Townsend doesn’t seem like the kind of person who loses his bottle but I think this selection is evidence that he’s gone full circle from the fastest brand of rugby to becoming convinced that some variant of the percentage game which other teams play (especially Wales or Ireland) is the way forward.

    I don’t think it’s going to work.

    It doesn’t suit the players we have.

    I think if you’re gifted 3 attacking centres like Jones, Hutchinson and Bennett all at once then you find a way to pick one of them.

    Then you can have a more defensive player like Chris Harris on the bench.

    Who cares if Horne can’t kick? Our aerial game is so-so anyway, but we’ve got backs who can score off quick ball.

    We don’t have the ball carriers for a one out game but they can get about the park.

    Perfect for this fast game Townsend wanted to play and that Glasgow played when he coached them.
    Why doesn’t he just stick with that and try to change it incrementally for the different demands of this level?

    I’ll eat humble pie to be proved wrong.

    • Tryhard on

      “Who cares if Horne can’t kick” is a good point. We have 3 excellent kickers in Hastings, Hogg and Kinghorn starting. This really should have been Horne’s game.

      On the centres, I agree – I just don’t buy them as a combination. Individually fine players but it was such an uncreative axis during the world cup that Russell kept forcing chip kicks every 5 phases when he ran out of ideas. There needs to be another attacking spark in there.

      Happy to be proven wrong but this selection just feels like a step backwards. Can’t help feeling like we have the most exciting creative set of backs we’ve ever had not playing for various reasons,

      • Alanyst on

        Only the scrum-half can box kick. So they need that skill, regardless of the other kicking talent.

        Not a fan of the box kick but in the age of offside rush defences, it’s just about the only exit strategy available. No way is 10 or 15 getting a kick away reliably

      • Tryhard on

        @Alanyst

        It’s not like Horne can’t do it though, it’s just not the strongest part of his game. We have enough strong kickers in the team to have a varied kicking game to allow Horne to just play his game as normal. Imo his pluses in attack outweigh his slightly weaker boxkicking. Also lets face it, Price hasn’t exactly given a masterclass in boxkicking so far.

      • Alanyst on

        Tryhard, I agree, at least I don’t disagree (hard to say as Horne has not had a decent opportunity in the 6N) … but the point is not irrelevant, as was suggested by OP.

        An international-standard scrum-half needs a decent box kick just to make it over the caterpillar ruck.

    • Alanyst on

      I have shades of the Japan game in my mind … we took a “low risk” defensive team and got smashed as Japan took on the risks and executed well.

      Italy, if they play with adventurous spirit, will win or lose this based on their execution.

      With this team we will be like a beige backdrop to whatever they do, good or bad.

    • Johnny b on

      From a strictly emotional perspective who cares if Horne can’t kick?
      If we’re not going to beat the All Blacks or even Ireland then at least let’s have some fun.
      On a percentage basis you are correct, however.

      • Johnny b on

        That’s what I think
        Horne v Price one of the more marginal calls. Price can play fast too.
        The real eyebrow raiser is Harris.
        Good to see how Dobie develops.

      • Stu2 on

        I was impressed with Dobie against Zebra – looks a typical Scottish 9 – didn’t see him kick, but his passing was crisp and he looks to play the game at pace.

        Good confidence for an 18yr old too.

  31. Merlot on

    Disappointing Toonie has returned to Tombola. As I’ve said before if he sticks with the same 23 for the first 3 matches, barring injuries and returning players, confidence will grow.
    Harris for Jones? Madness unless Huw has a knock or isn’t otherwise 100%.
    McGuigan has presumably got in because of that selection (back 3 cover).
    Fagerson for Haining? Why??? I like Matt but he doesnt deserve being drafted straight in over Nick.
    A good squad, no doubt, but I’m beginning to see why Townsend isn’t as respected as he may deserve to be. Not as much as some on this blog…
    …Neil wind your neck in.

  32. RuggersB on

    Disappointing selection. GT won’t be coach much longer imo…or maybe just my hope. It just isnt working out. There is always something missing in the performances.
    A win against Italy…..will prove nothing. He’ll have to win the next 3 matches to show some progress.
    Why drop Jones out the 23?…has he even been passed the ball yet?
    Haining played really well on his debut…and now cant get in the 23?
    Scott yet again not given a chance…despite playing really well at club level.
    Skinner not even on the bench.
    Brown and McInally both have been woeful at the lineout.
    Great …Toolis & Gilchrist..that’ll fix things!…2 average locks.
    ..and last but not least…still without our best 10…despite being fit as a fiddle.
    Sigh!

  33. john martin on

    It’s going to be a perfect day for running rugby in Rome, sunny, dry, 16d. It begs the question – does the weather conditions even come into GTs rationale when selecting a team? This game appears perfect for Jones, Hutchinson, Scott or Bennett (or even Steyn) to have a quick ball on a firm surface. Harris is getting flak on this forum but its not really him, its just we have 4 or 5 guys better than him available (I still get flashbacks of him being stripped of the ball by what looked like a Japanese schoolboy).
    No reason for Haining to be dropped.
    Apart from (admittedly magnificent) 40mins v England 2019, when is the last time we even played well?
    I am a positive fellow but its starting to feel like a Hadden(esque)/Williams(esque) situation.

    • Johnny b on

      More like Andy Robinson.
      Some good results and performances interspersed with poor ones, weird experi-selections + pressure on the team cranking up.

      I want Townsend to turn it around but it becomes difficult to see how that happens.

      • Captain Chaos and his band on

        teamcam: We did play well against Ireland , we have played 2 and got 2 points, We have climbed to 5th in the table, I agree, what is wrong with these people. Time for me to take my medication.

      • TeamCam on

        You don’t think we played well against Ireland? We outplayed them in every facet of the game bar the ruck. We showed incredible physicality, determination, skill and ambition. You can play incredibly and still not win, you know.

  34. Take the three on

    It doesn’t matter on iota If Horne can kick or not. Since when have we ever won a 50/50 kick? This selection offers nothing to get excited about after a year and a half of excuses, nearly sand plain poor performances. Regardless of this years results Dobsons choice is going nowhere we are stuck with a talented team of individuals and a manager who personifies the Peter Principle. Had we maintained Cotters progress we really should have pushed to win the 2019 six nations, instead we are fearful of Italy.

    • Alanyst on

      I had to look up the Peter Principle on Wikipedia, and while I was there…..

      “While incompetence is merely a barrier to further promotion, super-incompetence is grounds for dismissal. So is super-competence. In both cases “they tend to disrupt the hierarchy.”[10] One example of a super-competent employee is a teacher of children with special needs who was so effective at educating them that after a year they exceeded all expectations at reading and arithmetic, but the teacher was still fired because he had neglected to devote enough time to bead-stringing and finger-painting.[11]”

      …sounds familiar.

      • RuggersB on

        Yeah… sadly that happens all too often in society…let alone sport.
        …and there is always someone who promotes talent and success in others but only if it doesnt make them look stupid or ordinary.

  35. Johnny b on

    An in form Alex Dunbar or Duncan Taylor has left a bit of a hole in our options and I guess Harris is that kind of player.
    Let’s give him credit, he’s strong, a good athlete and he’s very competitive.
    The trouble is he’s an outside centre, and we have 3 outstanding attacking options there.
    It would almost be better if Chris Harris could reinvent himself as an inside centre.
    I wonder if Townsend has decided the team should move to a more structured percentage game.
    I don’t think that suits the players we have.
    Rather than decide how games are won by other teams (and I think Townsend draws inspiration from Wales especially) then force the players into that structure why not look at the players and what they’re good at then try to build the gameplan around that?

    Go roots up rather than top down?
    I could be completely wrong but this is just the impression I get.

    Let’s see how we go….

    • RuggersB on

      I honestly think GT has no clear idea of how to structure the team and get the best out of a group of players that are arguably the best gathering we have had in the pro era.
      It just feels like we are wasting an opportunity to do something special.
      He’s now picked a side that he feels will ‘combat’ an Italy side who are playing with more ‘adventure’…Crikey!!…If we cant beat Italy playing OUR OWN style of rugby??…heaven help us!
      Vern at least had the savvy to get us along the road to playing to our strengths.
      Done with GT!

  36. Brizzlekicks78 on

    I like Chris Harris and he is a decent player but his selection ahead of Hutchinson (in particular) and Jones makes NO sense against Italy in particular. Hutch and Horne had better be given some decent game time
    Off the bench or I’m going to throw something through the TV

  37. Grumpy on

    “Chris Harris says Scotland must deliver in Italy”.Sky Sports headline. Brilliant.A dozen caps mainly from the bench speaking up for the side.

    So here we are, back to the future,back three years when Toony picked Harris and Mcguigan for his first 6 nations against Wales, having ignored the man who was the current in form winger in the Premiership, Tim Visser.

    Back when we used to say “in Toony we trust” Hoping it would get better , burying our heads in the sand ? Has anyone asked him to justify that selection ?

  38. Captain Chaos and his band on

    Teamcam : Even if Cotter did take the wrong man, he still got us to the Quarters and we all know how close we were to a semi. He did all that ,even with the wrong team, that is what you are arguing , isn’t it ? You are telling us how good Cotter actually was! surely ?

    Unlike Townsend who picked all the right players, left the right ones at home, but still managed to humiliate his nation, his players, his fans, his border roots and took us out in the pool stage then walked away unashamed.

    Yes I agree with you , half a Cotter is better than a whole Townsend.

    • TeamCam on

      Medication not kicked in yet, presumably. You guys love reading the argument you hope the other party is making rather than the argument being made, eh? The post to which I responded claimed that Cotter didn’t pick the wrong men. I simply gave an example that I believe disproved such a claim.

      • BOA Ball boy on

        Teamcam: I think it is implicit Chaos does not agree with you, but his point is Cotter got Scotland to the quarterfinals regardless of the selection he picked and that is a better achievement than Townsend. So by your silence you have agreed with his point even if he was reading your argument wrongly. Personally I say crazy argument as there is no evidence , just opinion.

  39. Another Mike on

    If we can put in a performance like the Ireland game we should sneak it. Italy will likely cough up a couple tries (where Ireland didn’t), and hopefully our improved defence should sneak us over the line. Hoping for a Scottish defeat as quite a few contributors have indicated, sucks to be honest.

    That said, expectations have been diminished somewhat given our new game plan, here’s hoping the boys still have the courage to go for it if it’s on. Good luck Scotland.

    • Ian on

      Naw not there yet…..of course if it is a scottish defeat then there might be an upside to it. But for me, I just want us to beat what is in front of us every time. If we lose this saturday we are back to getting laughed at by the pundits, although we are pretty close already aka BBC clown video of Hogg’s drop.

    • tasmanian tiger on

      Where do you start with that nonsense. Its ill conceived on so many levels.
      One question does your utopia solution put a limitation on the coaching staff as well…..if that means we would continue to be lumbered with Townsend you are actually verging on insanity and seriously need to have a lie down in a dark room.

    • BruceP on

      Neil, not to point out a flaw in your xenophobic rant but surely by your standards Kyle Steyn wouldn’t be a “real Scot” yet he manages to get in the XV.

      But to be honest, get a grip, we only have two pro teams and the SRUN can’t afford / don’t want to risk saddling themselves with excessive debt so there is only an allowance for 90-100 pro XV players, of course players will play elsewhere. The only reason Ireland and England can dictate a “stay at home” rule is because their pro teams can pay wages high enough to keep them there, New Zealand suffers a massive player drain from all but those guaranteed a cap in the next All Blacks game.

      I don’t want to advocate the removal of posts as this is an open forum, but I do feel you’ve overstepped the mark here.

  40. Dan Mac on

    I remember back before the 2015 RWC there was a crazy man then called Neil who spouted all sorts of rubbish and craziness. I’m now starting to wonder if it is in fact a title “The Neil”, whose responsibility it is to post stuff in an effort to make as many readers and commentators stare at their screens and shout “WTF?!”

  41. Johnny b on

    I’ve noticed on other forums that, especially BBC that England in particular have plenty of boorish trolls among their fans, but they troll other teams and their supporters.

    This contrasts with Scotland fans, quite a few of whom seem to enjoy trolling their own team and supporters.

    Unless Neil and a few others are fans of other teams or Russian bots?

    Assuming you’re not, why do you do it?

    Scotland players collectively have confidence issues and deep down don’t believe they can beat higher ranked teams.

    How do you think all the jeering and hectoring and demands that player x is dropped and the coach falls on his sword helps?
    Would you say some of the things you say about the players if you were on the pitch with them?

    We are a better team than Italy and if the team performs at or close to its potential we will win, probably quite comfortably.

    The danger is that confidence seeps away, pressure builds and the team plays within itself.
    I don’t think jeering, hectoring fans help.

  42. Davosa on

    Wow ! Some serious calling out on here. 5 pts in Rome may help soothe frayed tempers. In my opinion a very uninspired selection by GT but lets wait and see.

  43. 1.8T on

    Well if it wasn’t for the discussion on here the last few days I genuinely wouldn’t have known Harris was playing in that first half. Referee is killing the game a bit, very stop start. What is our reluctance to play bog standard bash it up a bit and throw the ball down the line rugby? We’re trying to be clever all the time and it’s not working. Hogg took his try very well though, excellent vision and pace, reminded me of his try against Ireland a few years ago.

  44. Csc on

    Neither side in control of this game. Scottish forwards are doing reasonably well, but still too many errors in attack.

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