Scotland v Italy: Six Nations 2021 Match Preview pt I

KO 2.15 at BT Murrayfield
Saturday 20th March 2021

Live on BBC1

Scotland are aiming for their tenth consecutive win against Italy. That’s already the best streak they have managed against any other nation in the last 50 years. Prior to the current run of successes, the Scots’ winning percentage against Italy was 65%. Since their last loss to the Italians (an absolute spirit-crusher at Murrayfield in 2015), the average margin of victory has been 17 points. In the last decade at Murrayfield that increases to 22 points for the five matches won.

While the difference between the two sides may have been pretty wide on the scoreboard, each of those wins has required plenty of hard graft to build the foundations. With the Italians themselves better set up to play attacking rugby than in the past – but equally not the powerhouse up front of old – it’s probably best not to get too loose. The Scottish pack will have to provide the platform and the side will need to get the fundamentals right before they start adding any razzle dazzle.

Italy Scouting Report

Six Nations Struggles

It’s impossible to discuss Italy without mentioning just what a dismal run they are on in the Six Nations. Their defeat at Murrayfield in 2019 meant they set the longest losing streak in the championship’s history – and of course nothing has improved over the last two years with the sequence now standing at 31 matches.

Any home fans getting too confident just need to remember that the last opposition that the Italians beat in this tournament was Scotland. The last venue they won a Six Nations’ game at was Murrayfield. Even with the dark blues undoubted improvement in recent years this is still the game Italy are most likely to target to snap their streak. They will be motivated and fired up and it’s going to be down to the Scots to subdue that passion and take control of the match rather than getting drawn into the sort of game the Italians want to play.

Sin Bin Sinners

Italy have copped four of the seven yellow cards handed out so far in this season’s Six Nations. With their defensive efforts already stretched even with 15 men on the pitch, they have definitely struggled to cope while down a man (or two), conceding 33 points in 36 minutes while shorthanded.

The sin bins are more of a symptom than a cause though with the Italians finding themselves under relentless pressure from the off in most of their games. Only England made a sluggish start against the Azzurri – France, Ireland and Wales all had a try on the board in the first 10 minutes and never looked back from there. If Scotland can similarly get out of the blocks quickly their opponents could find themselves in the same vicious cycle of pressure leading to errors leading to more pressure leading to more errors…

Backline Got Skills

Up front there are no talismanic figures muscling up at the setpiece. The back row is still pretty handy but lacks Italy’s one real world class player in Jake Polledri and one of their most consistent performers in Braam Steyn. That’s left the Italian backline in a tough position with a shortage of quality possession. When given the opportunity though they have shown some real ability to shift the ball and stretch the opposition’s defence.

Italy average more passes per carry than any side bar Wales. They are going to move phase play away from thumping it up through the forwards as quickly as they can, as often as they can. This will be the antithesis of what Scotland faced last week against Ireland and is likely to influence the side’s defensive setup. It might even tip some selection decisions in favour of more mobile players, whereas last week saw Gregor Townsend pack his bench with heavy hitters in the forwards.

Miscellaneous
  • After last week’s lineout struggles, Scotland will be glad to find themselves up against a side who have managed just one steal in four games and who boast what must be the shortest second row and back row in the tournament.
  • Italy are the most penalised side at the scrum with nine penalties conceded. They’ve also given up the most offside penalties (eight) which might suggest some level of concern that their defence has to be up extremely fast to stop the ball being moved wide.
  • Sebastian Negri has taken on a huge workload in the absence of back row colleagues like Polledri and Steyn. The Benetton flanker is one of just two players in this season’s Six Nations to make 50 or more carries and 50 or more tackles (the other is Taulupe Faletau of Wales).

Previous results

This will be the 11th time the two sides have met in Edinburgh for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

W W W L W W W W W

Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 33 – 20 Italy

Significant stat
64% possession for Italy in the second half. There was a lack of ruthlessness about Scotland’s performance in the latter stages of the match. After building up a 33-3 lead with 63 minutes on the clock the other sides in the Six Nations would have been pushing to hit 50 by the final whistle. Scotland instead just seemed to switch off a fraction and let the intensity drop. The Italians took over and ended up scoring three tries in the last ten minutes.

Ultimately it meant little in the context of Scotland taking the win and the five points – but it’s still an area the dark blues need to improve on. Maintaining performance levels over the full 80 minutes is a big work on for the side with the goal of being more consistent and hopefully seeing that rewarded by turning some narrow losses into wins.

Officials

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant 1: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant 2: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Alex Ruiz (France)

He’s back! After a three year spell where he took charge of Scotland once every four games (9 out of 34 Tests in total) there has been a ten match gap since M. Gauzere last reffed the dark blues.

It would actually have been an even longer break but with original appointee Jaco Peyper unable to travel from South Africa, M. Gauzere was top of the list to step in to take charge of this match.

There should be absolutely no excuses for the Scots not to be fully aware of M. Gauzere’s tendencies and peccadilloes. There’s even previous experience of this specific fixture to fall back on after he took charge of the Six Nations’ games between Scotland and Italy in both 2017 and 2018.

Scotland’s last five games with M. Gauzere in charge:

  • 2018 – beat Italy (A)
    Penalties: 14 (For 9 – 5 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Wales (H)
    Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – beat Georgia (A)
    Penalties: 25 (For 13 – 12 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – beat Samoa (N)
    Penalties: 24 (For 14 – 10 Against)
    Cards: Samoa 1 YC + 1 RC (for a 2nd yellow)
  • 2019 – lost to England (H)
    Penalties: 14 (For 6 – 8 Against)
    Cards: none

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on Friday after the team announcement on Thursday.

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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

4 comments on “Scotland v Italy: Six Nations 2021 Match Preview pt I

  1. James on

    Another interesting part 1 analysis ahead of a Scotland test.

    With the injuries we had last game it’ll be interesting to see who makes the team this week.

    I expect we’ll see JVDW at 10 rather than Hogg as suggested in some of the threads which will unfortunately (IMO) mean we keep the same centre pairing: I’d really love to see Jones back at 13.

    Second row seems to be just Skinner and Gilchrist left in the squad with any experience so I’d expect they’ll start.

    Looking forward to seeing how we cope with the injuries and the pressure of not only being favourites but also being desperate for a win to put the last two games behind them. We really need to see that some lessons have been learnt from the recent losses (from the players and Toonie).

    • FF on

      I rate Skinner but why would he leapfrog Craig? If he does kind of calls into question squad selection for previous weeks.

      Also not sure why JVDW means no Jones?

      Italy can be potent in attack and if they get a sniff of a win they will be difficult to suppress. I’d like to see us take the front foot and the only way is by scoring early and often. Let’s chuck Jones in.

      This has all the hallmarks of a classic Scottish meltdown but on the other hand, we beat them in time with weir at 10 so we should be confident of doing the job with minimum of fuss.

      • James on

        FF, I was thinking that if Toonie is forced into changing his 10 he’ll want some consistency in the midfield which would be keeping Harris at 13. I’d much prefer to have Jones but I’m not convinced Toonie is going to spin the tombola that hard. Although your follow up comment suggests it may have gone into overdrive!

        Skinner over Craig was more about experience if we’ve lost our first 3 choices at lock. Although Gilchrist had experience so perhaps that’s not an issue.

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