Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


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

Italy v Scotland
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

Two years ago Scotland scraped over the line thanks to a final quarter revival. Just 9 of the Scottish matchday 23 return from that fixture – and only Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Hamish Watson also started last time round in Rome.

The Italians call on 14 of the matchday squad that pushed Scotland hard before fading, with 9 of the starting XV the same as that spring day in 2018 at the Stadio Olimpico.

Tale of the tape

Tries   51
87kg   Average weight   95kg
Total caps   214
6N caps   98
Average age   27.0

   Pack weight   904kg
Tries   17
Total caps   159
6N caps   67
Average age   26.1

Tries   19
122   Total caps   183
6N caps   58
Average age   27.8

3 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v England)

  • 13 – Harris for Jones [=]
  • 2 – McInally for Brown [=]
  • 4/5 – Toolis for Gray [-]


Jayden Hayward
Mattia Bellini
Luca Morisi
Carlo Canna
Matteo Minozzi
Tommaso Allan
Callum Braley

Andrea Lovotti
Luca Bigi (c)
Giosue Zilocchi
Alessandro Zanni
Niccolo Cannone
Jake Polledri
Sebastian Negri
Abraham Steyn

Federico Zani
Danilo Fischetti
Marco Riccioni
Dean Budd
Marco Lazzaroni
Giovanni Licata
Guglielmo Palazzani
Giulio Bisegni

ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Italy
ADV Scotland

ADV Italy
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Italy
ADV Scotland

ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland

ADV Scotland

Stuart Hogg (c)
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

Fraser Brown
Allan Dell
Willem Nel
Grant Gilchrist
Matt Fagerson

George Horne
Rory Hutchinson
Byron McGuigan


Backs – advantage Scotland

Italy’s outside backs have missed 18 tackles in their opening two fixtures of the Six Nations. Interestingly even though he must have been seen as a weakness Carlo Canna has probably been the most reliable of the defenders in this group. The out of position standoff has clearly been targeted in the inside centre channel and has been forced to attempt 32 tackles so far – 10 more than any other Italian back – but he’s only missed 2 and has stood up well.

There’s one selection decision that has caught the eye among Scottish fans and media… Short of Chris Harris scoring a hat-trick before parading off the pitch Conor McGregor style, the Gloucester player is likely to remain a divisive figure. A successful game more probably involves defending his channel, bringing his back 3 into the game and hammering the breakdown to slow Italian ball or speed it up when Scotland are attacking in the wider channels.

Forwards – advantage Scotland

For various reasons, there has been a 100% turnover in the Scottish tight 5 that started the last RWC match against Japan (Dell, Brown, Nel, Gilchrist, Gray). The current unit has an interesting mix of guys who will carry the ball tight and also a little wider to really test the Italian defence. They’ve got a 6kg a man weight advantage on their opponents for scrum time too.

The Italians’ tallest forward is 6’5″. This doesn’t seem to have hurt their lineout so far (they’ve only lost 2 in the Six Nations) but if Scotland can get a read on where the ball is going Toolis and Cummings will surely be aggressive in looking to get the dark blues’ first steal of the tournament.

Subs – advantage Scotland

Italy have gone with a 6 forwards / 2 backs split in each of their 3 games in the championship. That’s allowed them to make several early changes to their pack (46 minutes in v Wales; 51 mins v France) and sub on 5 forwards while holding 1 back for emergencies. Like Scotland their back replacements have had limited game time, averaging 15 minutes for their 4 subs (Scotland’s 6 potential subs have averaged 11 minutes on the pitch in their fixtures).


– Matchday squad splits by club:

  • Italy – Benetton 12; Zebre 8; Exiles 3.
  • Scotland – Edinburgh 9; Glasgow 8; Exiles 6.

– Scott Cummings is playing in his 11th consecutive Test since his debut in the first match of the 2019 summer series away to France. He is the only player to feature in all of those 11 games.

– At the start of the 2023 World Cup cycle, Italy have 6 players aged 29 or older in their lineup (4 starters and 2 subs) who might be considered unlikely to make it to France in just under 4 years’ time. Scotland have 7 in the 29+ bracket (3 starters and 4 subs).

– Looking back just 4 years to when Scotland beat Italy 36 – 20 in Rome the only returning players of the 46 from the matchday squads are:

  • Italy – Bellini, Lovotti, Palazzani and Zanni.
  • Scotland – Hogg, McInally, Nel and Sutherland.

– Players in the Italian squad who have won a Six Nations fixture – Zanni (8); Allan (1); Bisegni (1); Morisi (1). 19 of the Azzurri’s 23 have yet to experience victory in the championship – so they’ll definitely be hungry for a win…

31 Responses

  1. I cannot believe all the negative stuff that has happened this season but it has and there we are. Its tragic how divided the Scotland rugby support seem to be over this season I only hope the players are in the exact opposite boat and just go out and play the game that’s in front of them – anything less and we are looking at Groundhog day wooden spoon contention again-moment of truth time I guess. As one ????

    1. The squad does seem to be pretty much as one. But that doesn’t seem to be helping them get over the line in big games and that is why the fans are ultimately grumbling… we’ve had two matches that were effectively there for the taking and one way or another we blew it in small crucial decisions…

      The main one being hammering the line until we get turned over by fair means or foul rather than when it’s on using the overlaps to make the try and dominance count.

      We can still have the defensive structure and good solid non try leaking stuff going on with a calculated risk to spread it wide when five metres out.

      That to me is the most gauling and stupid traits I’ve seen with this incarnation of Tonnieball 2020…

      1. So is the decision to go wide when camped on the try line being coached out of them or are they making poor on field decisions? Cannot figure it out.
        I can’t help thinking that Horneito could help solve that conundrum but not if he comes on in a tight game with less than 15 mins to go. I think he needs a real run at it -otherwise he is likely to try and force it due to feeling under pressure. Not sure Toonie conservatism will bring him on early enough.

      2. Not putting Horne on earlier has proved in hindsight to be catastrophic to our chances of winning both games. Price was doing fine but fine wasn’t good enough in the end. Horne would have ran the final play and been fresh enough to make a good go of it.

        So many teams if u watch all the teams in the six nations batter away at the line. Many get over a good percentage of the time which makes it a viable tactic.

        But they miss their fair share of 3 or 4 attackers with one defender due to old fashioned vision. It has to be coached or the fly half doesn’t shout loud enough.

        As an International sport that’s unacceptable. If there’s a chance you can’t hear some signal must be able to be conveyed and therefore carried out. Even if the forwards are the ones who look and there’s a signal from fly half.

        The shout from the forward “It’s on left” or It’s on right” and then it’s try time. With the complexities Townsend apparently goes into that isn’t hard to do.

  2. Scotland for the win by 10+ points.
    We played well vs Irish and the England game was a dud for both teams in terms of understanding the teams capabilities.
    I reckon Scotland will take this one with a strong first half showing.
    Also cannot wait for the summer and Duhan VDM to be Scottish qualified! He is incredible

    1. Darcy and Duhan ….Will be a very interesting combo in the future. The Odd Couple for sure.

      I really don’t get the we did well and so that is acceptable. We played terrible and won is acceptable..which is what Englad did. You wouldn’t get any English player coming out with that with a loss like we had. They didn’t have the best of it for 30mins in 2nd half. We failed to take our chances. One bad ref call to take lead b4 their try should have been to put us beyond 7 points so their try was a pressure point not a decisive victory. We made errors so did they we didn’t take our chances they took their one chance to get a try in 2nd half. We took none of a handful.

      We must not be accepting of failure like we have been if we are to take the next step.

      Both matches were doors ajar and we tripped over our feet running at it rather than through.

      In saying that there is a not so unlikely scenario that could have 4 teams on 9 points and us on 7 just behind at the end of this weekend.

      1. Completely agree… A defeat is a defeat, and we only have ourselves to blame for not taking the opportunities that we had to win them both. I don’t see how anyone can be satisfied with that.

        It’s probably fair to say that we don’t hate losing as much as our opponents, and that’s part of the reason that we do it more.

      2. A defeat with a good performance was acceptable at the start of Townsends career as Scotland coach, we should not just be accepting that now however after he has had years to develop a team.

        Really we should be targeting 2 out of the 4 as wins each six nations (I dont include Italy which should be a forgone conclusion)

        Treat the six nations like the five nations and consider how happy we are with results then.

    2. Italy’s whole season is about this one match and they have actually managed to score 3 tries this 6 nations, which is three more than Scotland.

      Toony has obviously decided that if we go to Rome and attempt to play running rugby they will come back at us. I do not agree with him, I think we need a high tempo game, not a game where we allow them to come at us and hope they make a mistake.

      Any win is positive, however , I have to agree with Neil, there is no glory in beating this side. You need to win your home games and we handed it to England, there is no way we can get away from that.

  3. If Scotland play to their potential and dont get nervous they will win.
    I am with 90% of other fans who think the latest turn of the tombola is… interesting.. but to give Townsend his due one thing he does seem reasonably good at is taking pressure off the team.

  4. Not much to add, but I really like these articles. Better than the usual fluff pieces one sees one other sites, which try and frame it as something dumb like Farrell being motivated to beat his dad’s side because he wasn’t allowed a dog when he was a kid or whatever.

  5. Agree with Cam – great article. I’d disagree on some of the head-to-heads though:

    Hayward vs HOGG
    Bellini vs MAITLAND
    MORISI vs Harris
    Canna vs JOHNSON
    MINOZZI vs Kinghorn
    ALLAN vs Hastings
    Braley vs HORNE

    Lovotti = Sutherland
    Bigi vs McINALLY
    Zilocchi vs FAGERSON
    Zanni vs TOOLIS
    Cannone vs CUMMINGS
    Polledri = Ritchie
    Negri vs WATSON
    Steyn = Bradbury

    Zani vs BROWN
    Fischetti vs DELL
    Riccioni vs NEL
    BUDD vs Gilchrist
    LICATA vs Fagerson
    Palazzani vs HORNE
    Bisegni vs HUTCHINSON
    (Lazzaroni vs McGuigan)

    – Hastings may be a wonderful young player, but Allan is an absolutely class operator. One of the most underrated 10s around, he creates a great deal of chances for the Azzurri and he’ll be one of their strongest weapons.

    – Canna may be acclimatising and defending very well at 12, but Johnson is up there with the best twelves in the NH. Very well-rounded. As much as Harris is excellent with lines and at giving the ball to our wings, Morisi has that bit more cutting edge.

    – Sutherland’s form is at least equal to Lovotti. Polledri may be very well lauded – and very rightly so! – but it’s worth remembering just how good Ritchie is on his day; an utterly class act. Think they’re at least equal.

    – Fischetti is a good loosie, but Dell was a cut above last spring and summer. I think he edges it. Matt Fagerson is just returning from injury – Licata could well be more of a threat on Saturday. Think Cummings just about offers that little bit more than Cannone does.

    1. This is inane, but it’s also quite funny that Italy have two ‘Scottish’ stand-offs.

      Tommaso Allan used to eligible for Scotland.

      Canna, meanwhile, is usually to be found on the ferry from Mallaig.

      Let’s hope our performance tomorrow isn’t a load of Muck, or we’ll need some Rum to get through it all. Especially if the players end up with Eigg on their faces.

  6. Perhaps worth noting that, as well as most of this Italy side, Scott Cummings, Magnus Bradbury, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson and Byron McGuigan have never won a Six Nations game with Scotland.

  7. Interesting article on the offside line about Walter Mittys selections for the italy game, here is a part he mentioned for Harris

    “Chris now has the opportunity to start the remaining two games.”

    I may be interpreting this wrong .. but it looks like Toony has already decide Harris will be his starting 13 for the remainder of the six nations regardless of his form.

    I will post the link and hope the Admins are kind enough to let it go through

  8. Just glad to see Parisse not on the team sheet. As I fear he’d drive them on to greater things and get the crown motivated. Maybe he’s the water boy.

    1. I agree he’d be a dangerous man to have involved. Although there is still a chance a late injury replacement. Maybe they are leaving it all for England in their final match?

  9. I want to see Scotland hunting for intercepts in defense. Even if you don’t get them putting the pressure on a team who are trying to develop an offloading game can be very disruptive just get people in the passing lines. Obviously don’t go for anything stupid and get a YC but it’s something Scotland have gone away from especially without Finn. Seymour use to go for intercepts a lot in his early days and was excellent at it but then just stopped. I want to see more of Scotlands current team looking for them against Italy.

      1. Johnson intercepted or disrupted the possession three times against Ireland. Was very impressive…

        We used to be a scoring intercepts for fun kinda team but not so much now.

  10. I’m not sure I totally agree with Tom English on the BBC, a consistently excellent writer he may be but I have to disagree one win from 5 will not be adequate. Also can we take a while before we start declaring France the greatest ever team, much of the press appears to have given them the title already and declared Edwards the new messiah. I’ve enjoyed watching them but they have shipped 5 tries at home, we should still be looking for a home victory. Anything short of a bonus point win today for me will be a failure.

    1. Tom English is not a journalist but a fish wife whose articles would not look out of place in OK magazine.His interview with Townsend was completely cringeworthy. He is an SRU (Dodson)place man so treat anything he says with complete contempt.

    2. He’s a good writer but a bad journalist, in my opinion. He seems to value narrative over fact. An example from that very article is where he says that history tells us the game will be tight. We’ve won the last 7 games by an average of 18 points. That’s not tight. But it doesn’t fit English’s narrative.

      1. Doesn’t that average you cite include home games? I think today’s score is much more likely to be tight than an 18pt victory for Scotland, which would be just about Scotland’s biggest ever 6N winning margin in Rome.

        Personally I think English is about as good a rugby journalist we have in Scotland (not that that is enormous praise). People don’t like him because he isn’t Scottish as so let’s us see ourselves as others see us. It’s not usually a very flattering depiction. But that’s where we are – you only win respect by winning.

      2. Yes, those are results from all games, including at Murrayfield and WC warm ups. We beat them by 16 in Rome in 2016 but in other matches played in Italy since 2012 we lost to them once (in 2012 – ancient history I know and almost irrelevant) and beat them by 1 (2014), 4 (2015) and 2 (2018).

        I don’t disagree with you about him deciding a narrative and then throwing all his literary skill at it. That usually ends up being 20% more praise than we deserve when we play well and 20% more criticism than we deserve when we don’t.

        But I think he’s genuinely invested in Scottish rugby. A bit like a fan on these forums in some ways.

  11. You’re in trouble if you’re counting on intercept tries to get results. Great if they come but it’s papering over cracks and a huge gamble.

    Crosbie and Haining good again last night. Edinburgh winning was the main thing this weekend. Hope Glasgow do the same. Italy will beat the test side today I reckon and then things get very interesting with Dodson/GT and Hogg.

    There really are some odd people working for the SRU. Remember that ‘independent analyst’ comedian who popped up after the Ireland match in Japan, in SRU media. Hilarious. What’s happened to him? And whose idea was that.

  12. Just watching the highlights of the Reds v the Sunwolves in Super Rugby.

    Is Jock Campbell Scottish qualified? Just curious. Looks a really decent player.

    Sorry if this has already been discussed and I missed it (and I know it has nothing to do with the thread so sorry about that as well…)

  13. Half time in the Italy game and I’ve finally conceded, Townsend has to go. Regardless of whether Scotland go on to record a bonus points win or not. We are winning every element of this game, scrum, lineout, breakdown, the forwards are busting the gain line and giving great front foot ball and yet when we get possession we look totally uncoordinated there no attack structure at all it’s just aimless. This is Townsend area pure a simple and he’s lost it. every individual is better but we are 15 individuals. The only score was individual brilliance nothing to do with attacking structure.

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