Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Italy v Scotland: Autumn Nations Cup 2020, Match Preview pt I


KO 12.45 (1.45 local time) at Stadio Artemio Franchi
Saturday 14th November 2020

Live on Amazon Prime Video

Scotland are looking for their ninth consecutive win against Italy. This is already the second-longest winning streak against a single opponent in Scottish rugby history

Most consecutive wins for Scotland against a single opponent:

  • Ireland – 12 (Feb 1882 – Feb 1892)
  • Italy – 8 (Aug 2015 – ongoing)
  • Romania – 7 (Apr 1995 – ongoing)
  • Japan – 7 (Oct 1991 – Jun 2016)
  • Ireland – 6 (Mar 1989 – Jan 1993)
  • Samoa – 6 (Oct 1999 – Jun 2012)

There’s no room for complacency though. Scotland nicked it at the death in a Six Nations game against the Italians in 2018. Earlier this year the dark blues struggled until the final minutes to put away the Azzurri in Rome. Italy will be desperate for a victory and their back to back home games against Scotland and Fiji will have been a big target since the Autumn Nations Cup pools were confirmed.

Italy Scouting Report

One Man Team?

Scotland will need to be wary of Jake Polledri who is one of the most effective ball carriers in world rugby – and has been for the past few years. He beats an extravagant number of defenders in every game, including 7 against Scotland in Rome earlier this year (the rest of the Italian forwards combined contributed only 1 further broken tackle).

During the recently completed Six Nations, Polledri was also Italy’s top tackler and he has developed into one of their key lineout options. While the style of play is even more brutal, the comparisons to Sergio Parisse are clear, with a player who increasingly must feel like he has to take everything on his shoulders to get things done – the FIIDIM method.

The risk for Italy is that the player becomes too much of a target for the opposition to shut down. A gem like Polledri could be a match-winner if surrounded by a suitable supporting cast (as Parisse was in the late 2000s and early 2010s). If he has to do everything himself then, counterintuitively, Italy aren’t really getting the best out of a world class player.

Twin Playmakers

While Scotland may have flirted with the idea of playing either Adam Hastings or Finn Russell at inside centre, Italy have gone all in on starting two stand offs. While Carlo Canna at 12 and either Tommaso Allan or Paolo Garbisi at 10 is less ‘cats at a rave’ and more ‘dormice at a church fete’ it still significantly expands the Italian’s playmaking options and creativity.

Canna himself has been something of a revelation. After years of being viewed as a bit flaky he seems to have enjoyed the move to a slightly less high-profile role. He has been a key distributor for Italy this year, taking the pressure off his 10s. The obvious risk was in defence but again Canna has stood up well despite being heavily targeted – he was the only back among the top 10 for number of tackles attempted during the Six Nations.

Opportunities will be there for, most likely, Sam Johnson in the Scotland 12 shirt but Canna certainly won’t make it easy and the dark blues will need to be on the money defensively to shut down Italy’s twin playmakers.


  • Italy lost 17 rucks and mauls in their two recent games against Ireland and England. Scotland’s pack may not be as physical as those sides but they do have the breakdown terriers, Watson and Ritchie, to call upon.
  • Mattia Bellini, Carlo Canna and Matteo Minozzi were all among the top 10 for turnovers conceded during the Six Nations. Scotland’s kicking game and defensive effort has to maximise pressure on the Italian backline.
  • The 8 scrum penalties conceded by Italy were the most in the Six Nations. Giosue Zilocchi has continued in the number 3 shirt even after his roasting in Rome at the hands of Rory Sutherland. Will Franco Smith keep faith in the young tighthead and see if he can redeem himself – potentially against the same opponent?

Previous results

This will be the 7th time in the last 10 years that these two sides have met on Italian soil. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting in Italy:

Italy 0 – 17 Scotland

Significant stat
212 – tackles attempted by Italy (they missed 31 of them). Scotland really worked over the Italian defence but imprecision (a sloppy pass here, a wee knock on there) stopped the dark blues from grabbing the big win that was there for the taking.

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.


Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referee 1:  Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Wayne Barnes (England)

Scotland’s only previous encounter with Mr Pearce was the home game against Italy in 2019. While the result might have been positive the discipline scoreboard was a bit of a shocker, with 11 penalties conceded (to the Italians 4) and Simon Berghan sent to the sin bin. To top it all off, a Stuart Hogg wonder try was chalked off for a non-existent bit of obstruction!

This is where Scotland have to take responsibility themselves though. The dark blues’ own indiscipline was pretty much the only thing that kept Italy in the game that day. Whatever tone the ref sets, Scotland need to adapt and follow it and not present the Italians with opportunities for easy territory or points.

Scotland’s previous game with Mr Pearce in charge:

  • 2019 – beat Italy (H)
    Penalties: 15 (For 4 – 11 Against)
    Cards: 1 YC (Simon Berghan)

1 Response

  1. Should win comfortably, but Italy have played some good rugby in the last few weeks.

    Scotland to create a platform and keep the scoreboard ticking over for 60 minutes, then hopefully pull further ahead in the last 20 when Italy tire and have to use their subs who tend to be a step down.

    To show progress we need to control the game and never look like losing, win by 20+ and not give away any soft tries.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion