Preview: Italy v Scotland

Date published: March 16 2012

In what has become a similar scenario in Six Nations rugby, Italy and Scotland go head to head desperate to avoid the wooden spoon.

In what has become a similar scenario in Six Nations rugby, Italy and Scotland go head to head in Rome with both teams once again desperate to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.

For the second successive year, the two teams must battle it out in the final round of matches to avoid the ignominy of finishing sixth in the tournament.

Since the Azzurri joined the competition in 2000, one or other has finished bottom of the table 11 times out of 12. Italy have been in last place nine times, including the last four years in a row when Scotland have finished just above them.

A first victory in Rome since 2006 is necessary for Scotland to avoid finishing bottom of the pile for the third time – having also done so in 2004 and 2007.

After promising showings, albeit in defeat, against England, Wales and France, Scotland's progress was brought to an abrupt halt by a 32-14 loss in Dublin.

The result extended Scotland's winless run to six matches, handed head coach Andy Robinson a record of 11 losses in 14 Six Nations fixtures and meant for the third successive year a win on the final weekend of the championship is a must to finish fifth.

Victory for Scotland will be the visitors' first since the Rugby World Cup – where they were eliminated at the group stages for the first time – however, defeat in Saturday's basement battle at the Stadio Olimpico will be the Scots' seventh straight loss for the first time since 1998.

So the pressure is certainly on before a coaching overhaul takes place at the Scottish Rugby Union, with attack coach Gregor Townsend and defence counterpart Graham Steadman taking part in their final match with the squad in Rome.

Robinson could join the departing duo in leaving Murrayfield, having so far declined to answer direct questions over his future, stating only that he is under contract until the 2015 World Cup. While only Robinson knows his intentions for certain – and the prospect of a return to Bath has long been muted – the overhaul indicates he will be staying in charge.

It hasn't been a bed of roses for Italy either in their 2012 campaign. Under a new coach, the Azzurri have been soundly beaten in each of their away trips, but came within five points of a first-ever victory over England in their only other game at the Stadio Olimpico.

One of their main problems has been keeping up early momentum, having kept up the pace until well after half-time before slipping away.

Former Perpignan boss Brunel has tried to implement a more attacking game since taking over from Nick Mallett, but the team haven't quite adapted to the new style just yet.

To take on the Scots, Brunel has made six changes to his team with talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni fit again after a rib injury.

Elsewhere Giovanbattista Venditti returns on the wing, Tommaso Benvenuti – who scored against England in Rome – comes in at centre while Edoardo Gori takes the scrum-half duties.

As well as Castrogiovanni up front, Marco Bortolami and Robert Barbieri are in to shore up the pack, and Brunel has urged his team to show more confidence against Scotland.

“We have spirit but we lack certainty in our game, we're still beneath the bar we set ourselves,” he said.

“We're still too timid, we've got too much fear, we need to find synthesis between the forwards and the backs.

“But I'm asking for a slightly different organisation and we still need to oil the cogs. But there you go, we've the right spirit. It's just that there isn't much time as we only have six test matches before the next Six Nations tournament.

“We don't have the time to try things out if that doesn't work, we have to move on quickly to something constructive.”

And having made just one change for the clash in Rome with the return of Nick De Luca for the injured Lee Jones, Robinson is under no illusions that the Italians will be equally desperate for a win.

“They're a team that has been developing. They will want to get a win out of the championship, as we do,” he said.

“There will be two desperate sides to win the game. They want to defend their own territory and they do it with real pride.

“You're going to be tested physically by the Italian front five, their back row are skilful and good in the air, but also the Italians have been developing their back play.

“Whilst it's probably not been seen yet, they have some dangerous runners and good finishers.

“We go into every game expecting to win and working to win and believing we have the game if we perform at our very best.

“We've not been at our very best in every single game and that's why we've not won the games.

“It's about putting in an 80-minute performance.”

Ones to watch:

For Italy: Edoardo Gori will line up at scrum-half for Italy for the fourth time in five Six Nations matches this season. His selection ahead of Fabio Semenzato, or even South African-born Tobias Botes, once again was a sign that Brunel has decided who is his first-choice number nine and the Treviso's third-choice halfback will be looking to repay his coach's faith with a solid outing.

For Scotland: Scotland's successes – or lack of rather – are often based on the fact that they don't have any stand-out superstars, but in Richie Gray they have one. Without a doubt Scotland's best attacking player in Dublin, the Sale Sharks-bound lock will be revved up for this clash, as he strives to reward his good form in the competition with a win.

Head to head: The scrum is going to be the place where it's all happening this weekend. It's an area that Italy always look to test anybody they play, and the battle between Scotland loosehead prop Allan Jacobsen and Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni could be a key duel in deciding the destination of the wooden spoon in Rome. Castrogiovanni is acknowledged as one of the world's best tightheads, but Jacobson will look to take advantage of the Italian's sore rib which he suffered in the defeat to England.

Recent results:

2011: Scotland won 23-12, Edinburgh
2011: Scotland won 21-8, Edinburgh
2010: Italy won 16-12, Rome
2009: Scotland won 26-6, Edinburgh
2008: Italy won 23-20, Rome
2007: Scotland won 18-16, St Etienne (World Cup pool match)
2007: Italy won 37-17, Edinburgh
2006: Scotland won 13-10, Rome
2005: Scotland won 18-10, Edinburgh
2004: Italy won 20-14, Rome

Prediction: Even though this game is being played at the Stadio Olimpico rather than the usual Stadio Flaminio, Scotland's record in Rome is far from impressive as they have only won twice there in the Six Nations. Scotland have been the opponent Italy have enjoyed the most success against in the championship, winning five of their meetings since 2000 and home advantage might swing the pendulum in the Azzurri's favour. Italy by three!