Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Italy v Scotland: Six Nations 2022, Match Preview pt I

Italy v Scotland
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

KO 2.15 (3.15 local time) at Stadio Olimpico
Saturday 12th March 2022

Live on STV

At kick-off, it will be 8 years, 11 months and 25 days since Italy last won a home game in the Six Nations. Not since they turned over Ireland in the 2013 championship have the Azzurri tasted victory on their own turf.

Italy’s most recent home Six Nations’ win against each opponent:

  • Ireland – 2013
  • France – 2013
  • Scotland – 2012
  • Wales – 2007
  • England – never

In the last three tournaments, the average score for Italy at the Stadio Olimpico is 5 – 38 including being held pointless twice – although Scotland’s 0 – 17 win (including a last minute converted try) in 2020 is the narrowest margin of defeat at home in that period.

There is more evidence that the Scots need to be wary and that the dark blues remain Italy’s best chance of breaking their barren streak. The only two occasions in the last 9 years that Italy have even collected a losing bonus point at home have both been against Scotland:

  • 2014 – Scotland won by 1 point – Duncan Weir drop goal with 19 seconds remaining.
  • 2018 – Scotland won by 2 points – Greig Laidlaw penalty with 84 seconds remaining.

Italy Scouting Report

Up Front Struggles

The contest in the forwards will be crucial. While the majority of tries scored against Italy have come from the backs, the platform has really been set by the success up front of the respective sides. In their three matches so far the metres gained with ball in hand by the packs have been:

  • France 201m50m Italy
  • Italy 90m230m England
  • Ireland 360m83m Italy

On a cumulative basis, Italian forwards have made less than a third of the metres of their opponents. For a Scottish pack that has yet to make 200m+ in any game this season there is a real need to take this opportunity to get on the front foot and provide a backline that is replete with Lions the kind of platform they can really go on a tear from.

Equally the dark blues’ big men must match what the other sides have done and shut down the Azzurri’s eight, smothering them and stopping their go forward. The impact of that in the previous fixtures has been to limit the possession getting into the hands of Italy’s most dangerous weapon, Paolo Garbisi. The Montpellier stand off is capable of picking a defence apart – but only when he has the ball. In this tournament he averages just 11 passes per 80 minutes, compared to 31 per 80 for the other countries’ starting 10s. Scotland need to ensure the young pivot’s contribution remains as inconsequential as possible.

Lifted by the Lineout

Each one of Italy’s games so far have featured 30+ lineouts. By comparison, the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England is the only one of the six other fixtures to hit that mark. Dominating the air could have a disproportionate effect on Saturday if setpieces are again that frequent.

Remarkably, Italy managed to put in their best lineout showing of the Six Nations so far in their game against Ireland – a match during which they played for more than an hour without a hooker and with prop Ivan Nemer doing the throwing in!

Under normal circumstances, Federico Ruzza is the heavily used jumping option, pouching more catches (19) than anyone else in the tournament and miles ahead of his teammates – no other Italian has more than 5 takes. In theory that should allow Scotland to target the Azzurri’s primary jumper. It was much the same against France though when Cameron Woki was the focal point and Scotland failed to really get any kind of pressure on the opposition throw in.

The Scots will feel they need much more from this facet of the game having managed just two steals so far. While their own throwing in has been strong (42 out of 43 successful) what they have produced in attack from the lineout has been pretty disappointing so far. There have been frequent dropped balls and messed up mauls as well as an inability to consistently bring their strike plays to bear.


  • Italy have played 224 minutes without a try since Tommaso Menoncello’s 5-pointer v France.
  • Michele Lamaro has made and attempted more tackles than any player in the championship.
  • The only Italian player to make 10+ tackles without a miss is Hame Faiva (16). The Azzurri could maybe have done with him missing at least one versus Ireland…
  • Danilo Fischetti, Hame Faiva and Braam Steyn are all in the tournament’s top 10 for dominant tackles.
  • There are six Italian forwards with 2 or more turnovers won. While Michele Lamaro might not play like a traditional ball hound at 7, Italy will have multiple threats chasing breakdown steals. Scotland’s ruck protection hasn’t been the best so far in this Six Nations and will need to improve if they are to test their hosts with multiple attacking phases.

Previous results

This will be the 12th time the two sides have met in Rome for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting at the Stadio Olimpico:

Italy 0 – 17 Scotland

Significant stat
10 – the number of defenders beaten by Adam Hastings. Add in 2 clean breaks and there was a lot of space created by the snake-hipped stand off. The rest of the side was in on the act too, totalling 31 defenders beaten and 11 clean breaks. What was missing was the composure and efficiency to consistently finish off with scores from the chaos caused in the Italian defence. Another nervy afternoon awaits if Scotland are similarly wasteful this weekend.

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


Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referee 1:  Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referee 2: Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

Mr Pearce is now among the very top rank of referees. With many of the old guard of the previous generation of whistlers having retired, he is well placed to challenge for the major appointments -potentially even the RWC final.

The English official only seems to be rolled out for Scotland matches when they take on Italy with this being his third such fixture in the last three years. The first was a bit of a riot from the Scots’ point of the view, the second a much better performance discipline wise. Hopefully, this is down to the dark blues having a better handle on what Mr Pearce is looking for and they can win the crime count this time round as well.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr Pearce in charge:

  • 2019 – beat Italy (H)
    Penalties: 15 (For 4 – 11 Against)
    Cards: 1 YC (Simon Berghan)
  • 2020 – beat Italy (A)
    Penalties: 19 (For 12 – 7 Against)
    Cards: none

Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Pierre Bruno, Juna Ignacio Brex, Leonardo Marin, Monty Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Callum Braley; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli, Michele Lamaro, ToaHalafihi.
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Ivan Nemer, Giosue Zilocchi, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Marco Zanon, Ange Capuozzo.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Kyle Steyn, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
ReplacementsStuart McInally, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Jamie Hodgson, Magnus Bradbury, Ben Vellacott, Adam Hastings, Sione Tuipulotu.

31 Responses

  1. Hoping this is the game where we rediscover our attacking mojo and all the basics click. If not it’s going to be another frustrating watch. Italy will be right up for this.

    Will be interesting to see what team is selected for this.

  2. This a no win game really. However I hope we put in a performance and build some momentum. Personally I want Townsend gone. However I’m not perverse enough to want us beaten to achieve that outcome.

  3. Last time we played any rugby was v Tonga.
    The euphoria about beating a dull England apart this has been a desperately disappointing 6N. Wales were there for the taking and the French should’ve been been under pressure, big failures to beat the Welsh and give the French a real game. Alas Ireland are very good at nullifying us so a handsome and morale boosting win on Saturday is a prerequisite. I’d like Scott Robertson to be approached.

    1. If Scotland could get Scott Robertson that would be some coup but I think is probably a pipe dream. If Townsend is to be replaced we need a coach with real world class credentials and they are few and far between. More likely to find one after the RWC where there might be a bit of a coach merry-go-round.

      1. I doubt we’d be able to attract a world class coach – there aren’t that many of them available. I can see Gatland going to England assuming they have an average or below par RWC. Eddie Jones has been underachieving for years given the wealth of resources he has at his disposal. Joe Schmidt is working for the ABs and likely has his eye on the top job. I doubt Rassie will leave SA. Cullen and Lancaster would be a good ticket but I’m sure they are being earmarked to take over Ireland one day. Shaun Edwards is an interesting shout although he is a defence coach and it remains to be seen if he can cut it as HC when his responsibilities get diluted. We need a coach who can instil more resilience and give our players a harder edge.

      2. I don’t think getting a world class coach is out of the question. The SRU are not poor (see Dodson’s last few bonuses) and we compete in highest regarded international tournament on a yearly basis. The other good thing about coaching Scotland is that, out with Scottish fans, there is very little expectation so any run of wins and the coach will be highly credited. I think it is a matter of finding the right fit though and as much as he is clearly a talented coach, I don’t think a Shaun Edwards will allow us to play our brand of attacking rugby. Scott Robertson would be a very exciting capture and would allow him to cut his teeth before trying to get the NZ job in a few years.

        Unfortunately, I’d be highly surprised if there was any movement before the World Cup though if we have another group stage knockout I think it’ll have to be curtains for GT.

      3. I totally agree on what we need the coach to do. The question is then, if we can’t get a World Class coach, why do we think replacing Townshend will lead to us making that leap from inconsistent with potential, to viable 6N title challengers?

        Who is going to be equipped to do that? All the coaches unproven at test level that might be at that calibre are never going to coach Scotland (Baxter, McCall, O’Gara maybe?). Perhaps Edwards as no one else seems to want to give him a head coach, or maybe Dan McFarland?

        Some fans seem more motivate any getting rid of Toonie than seeing Scotland improve.

      4. This seems fair FF. Even if we were to find a World Class coach who wanted the job, they wouldn’t have time now to really embed their game plan prior to the RWC. And after the world cup, we’re likely to have way more options.

      5. We had a world class coach, his name was Vern Cotter. We replaced him much too soon, with Gregor Townsend and the views on his success are mixed. There is always a positive spin.

        I think we have a great pool, but they just don’t seem to nail it in a Scotland Jersey.

        I do not think we will see a new coach very soon. Any suggestions on Mike Blair are simply desperate. We put too much on Toony’s shoulders and want to repeat the same mistake.

        If I am being honest, if they could just play with a smile on their faces, they will be better right away. Cut them some slack Toony.

    2. I think you’re being a bit harsh about the France game. Disappointing as it was we did put them under pressure.

      Unfortunately the ref was very lenient towards the French.
      I’ve watched it again and at 26 minutes Jaminet does his flying headbutt on Skinner – definitely a yellow card offence. 2 minutes later a high tackle prevents Ali Price from grounding the ball. Penalty Try and yellow card for Baille. So now France should be down to 13 and Harris wouldn’t have had to throw “that” pass as they wouldn’t have had a fullback. Unlikely that France would have been in position to score Fickou’s try but even so, instead of 19-10 it would have been 19-17 at half time.

      Then in the first minute of the second half we are attacking and Woki lies on the wrong side. Definitely a penalty but instead the ref waives it and France nick the ball and score. 26-10 instead of us taking the penalty for the lead 20-19.

      From there we were just playing catch-up. A bit early to try everything with 35 minutes to go. But you cannot blame the guys at 3 scores behind and against the wind to try and run everything. Too many turnovers in our own half then sealed the loss.

      OK we may not have won but those decisions against us made it a big loss rather than a proper competition.

  4. Would expect, and take, MacFarland or Wilson at this point.

    In an exciting let’s roll the dice kind of way I’d like to see a Mike Prendergast and Steve Tandy ticket.

    Some of the suggestions above are a little pie in the sky. Baxter looks like the next England coach. O’Gara or Scott Robinson – would be unlikely coups.

    There is always the option to BBVC…

    1. You would take Danny Wilson? In what world is that an improvement on Townsend?

      I agree most of those suggestions are unlikely, but I think unless we can be confident of securing a top drawer replacement, ditching Townsend will not get us anywhere.


  5. Robertson’s ultimate aim is likely NZ coach, he’s done all he can at SR so a wee switch to Scotland may well be the last piece of coaching credential jigsaw.
    Maybe it’s not GT fault, maybe it’s a scottish thing but I do teckon (if only for my own well being) a wee change is required.

    1. It would be amazing if it happened – someone who could bring a bit of feel good factor and team cohesion is, I think, the medicine needed! Way way more important than getting a hard as nails, no nonsense character some seem to want. The players are of a different generation now and I think someone in the mould of Gatland, Cockerill etc would be an unmitigated disaster.

  6. Townsend picks the two fattest centers possible ! I think that Italy will fancy themselves for this one.

    1. I think you’ll find Sione Tuipulotu has the highest BMI amongst the centers most regularly discussed.

      S. Johnson 6′ 0″ 102kg
      C. Harris 6’2″ 104kg
      H. Jones 6’1″ 102 kg
      S. Tuipulotu 5’10” 104kg
      C. Redpath 6’2″ 95kg
      M. Bennet 6’0″ 90 kg
      R. Hutchinson 5’11” 95 kg
      K. Steyn 6’2″102 kg
      J. Lang 6’0″ 95 kg

      It does seem there is a preference for the bigger guys to start. Maybe Bennett needs to be 2 stone heavier with the same speed and skills to be what they are looking for.

      1. Interesting Italy have gone for relatively light centres with Marin 1.88 and 88kg and Brex 1.89 and 99kg.

        Different challenge to France with Fickou at 100 kg and Danty at 110kg.

  7. Conservative selection by Townsend, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. Good to see Vellacott on bench, he could make an impact on a dry pitch in the last quarter.

    1. It’s exactly the team I expected to be picked. Agree, it’s not a reason to be critical – getting familiar combinations back together could help the team find its continuity again.

      Can’t help but feel that the revolving door at inside centre hasn’t particularly helped this campaign. Five games with a fit and firing Redpath would have been a big boost as we start looking ahead to the WC. Rory Hutchinson very unlucky not to have been pulled out of the tombola for this one – just feel he needs one good game in dark blue and could be the competition for Redpath going forward.

  8. Good to see Toonie doing the Sam Johnson hokey cokey again. Who is covering wing if Graham or Steyn get injured? Vellacott or Sione?

    1. Have to feel for Sam Johnson. Had a reasonable hour against England then dropped in favour of Sione, who hardly shone against Wales (or France for that matter).
      Harris can cover wing. Played there many times.
      Feel for Bennett too. I’d probably have him over Sione for this one.

      1. Sam Johnson has been dropped a few times for not doing an awful lot wrong so fair play to him for continually answering the call when asked to play. A true pro and a proper man with no ego or poor attitude getting in the way.

  9. Pretty much as expected TBH given the injuries and all. Happy to see Sammy J back, Tuipolotu hasn’t exactly done much wrong but he hasn’t set the heather on fire either, hopefully Russell will click with him a bit better as he usually tends to. Darge was one if not the only highlight of the France game so he deserves the 7 shirt, Mish is off the boil. Not sure about the 2 x 7s on the park, its been tried before, I don’t know that much about Darge to be honest, is he an out and out 7 or has he played elsewhere in the back row before?

    I would have put Kinghorn on the wing but I presume Toonie is seeing him only as a 10 now?

    When was the last time Alan Dell played a game for Scotland out of interest?

    1. Agreed with all your points 1.8T. Apart from being worried about having two 7s. Apart from not having a big-carrying 6 (which we don’t have as Skinner is in the 2nd row), these two could cause mayhem at the breakdown.
      Mish off-the-boil is still better than most, and I think peoples perception of him not playing well are due to the fact that opposition target him with double hits these days. Difficult to be a pinball off two simultaneous “flippers”.

      By the way, Alan Dell came on as a sub in the 6N win against France in 2020.

  10. Good to see the Toonie tombola has gone full retro with Uncle Scott making the bench instead of Adam Hastings…

  11. Crikey i know folks are after a change but Scott Hastings on the bench seems peak tombola!

  12. Pleased to see Matt Fagerson fit enough to start again. He took a lot of flak a couple of years ago from the ‘he’s not tall enough, he’s not heavy enough, he can’t carry enough to be a Test number 8’ critics, and he’s just quietly got on with it and done really well.
    Interesting to see Watson and Darge in combination. Darge is clearly successor in waiting to Watson at 7 but it will be fascinating to see how he copes at Test level as a 6.

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