Preview: Scotland v Italy

Date published: March 18 2011

Scotland and Italy battle it out at Murrayfield on Saturday with only one goal in mind: to win and avoid the Six Nations wooden spoon.

Scotland and Italy battle it out at Murrayfield on Saturday with only one goal in mind: to win and avoid the dreaded Six Nations wooden spoon.

The Azzurri have finished last nine times out of the last twelve seasons, whilst the Scots – yet to post a win in this year's championship – have ended bottom of the pile twice.

Italy have beaten Scotland on five occasions since joining the northern hemisphere's showpiece tournament in 2000 and have been successful in three of the last four Six Nations fixtures with the Scots.

In the past, the clash between the two perennial Six Nations strugglers would have been a contest watched on and off between the wife's soapies before the main event – in this instance being England's Grand Slam quest against Ireland.

However, this year is a bit different and I for one have already taken the liberty of hiring the box set of Desperate Housewives to keep the other half busy whilst the match in Edinburgh unfolds.

As a neutral, it's very hard to choose which team I'd like to see prevail.

Bar Italy's thumping defeat to England and Scotland's hiccup against Wales, both sides have been in pretty good shape against the rest of their respective opposition this year with the Italians' historic win over France propelling them into the lime light.

It was the hosts' first ever Six Nations win against the French, whose championship hopes are all but in tatters following a second successive defeat. For Italy the stunning and dogged performance – and arguably the biggest result in the country's history – will have banished memories of their 59-13 capitulation at Twickenham earlier this season.

It also came as just reward for the hard work of head coach Nick Mallett, who has helped fashion an increasingly formidable Italian outfit. Now, Italy must follow up their stunning upset against France with another win against Scotland.

Italy currently lie fifth in the standings, two points clear of winless Scotland, who ran England close at Twickenham on Sunday before losing 22-16. Last weekend's display in the defeat to England saw aspects of Scotland's game back at their best, but a misfiring line-out and a struggling scrum meant a first win at Twickenham since 1983 remained elusive.

Scotland entered the tournament on a run of five wins in six Tests, but go into the final weekend at the wrong end of the table after four defeats from four games. And head coach Andy Robinson knows his side face a difficult task on Saturday as his team seek to avoid finishing bottom of the table for the first time since 2007.

“Whether they beat France or not, the performances they've had this year have been pretty consistent,” he said.

“I see them very much like Scotland. They're a team that has been improving and have been able to play with a lot more width.

“They certainly have the physicality in their game and they've been really unlucky not to have won the three home matches this year.

“We know that this is going to be another very good Test match. What we need to do is be able to look after ourselves, play for that 80 minutes and finish a game.

“We haven't been able to win games because we haven't been good enough and that's what we've got to look at.”

So will it be the Scots or Italians stirring the losers pot with their wooden spoon after 80 minutes? It will be a shame for brave Scotland to end the campaign without a win, but on the other hand it will also be a tragedy if Italy finished bottom yet again after one of their most memorable tournaments in history.

Tough one.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: Scotland's scrum has been under pressure in the tournament and will line up against a formidable Italy pack. They must claim at least parity up front against the Azzurri and allow their backs to prosper in the wide expanses of Murrayfield. That was one reason Geoff Cross was selected to win his fifth cap, but his first start for two years, in an all-Edinburgh front row.

For Italy: Andrea Masi was named man of the match in Italy's victory over France and has for many years been a powerful and committed element in the Italy team. Having been surprisingly selected at full-back against Les Bleus, his runs from deep with ball in hand did much to help the Italians break the gain-line and put the French on the back foot. His team-mates will be hoping for more of the same come kick-off at Murrayfield.

Head to head: The line-out. Scotland's aerial battle – as well as their scrum – must function at their peak against Italy. England put the Scots' tall timber under huge pressure last time out and Italy's jumpers Carlo Antonio Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys and Sergio Parisse will be out to do the same.

Previous results:
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)
2007: Italy won 37-17, Edinburgh
2006: Scotland won 13-10, Rome
2005: Scotland won 18-10, Edinburgh
2004: Italy won 20-14, Rome
2003: Scotland won 47-15, Edinburgh
2003: Scotland won 33-25, Edinburgh

Prediction: Italy have won at Murrayfield before, claiming a famous 37-17 victory in February 2007, and will need a similar performance to earn the points they need. The Azzurri will have to show the same determination and aggressiveness displayed against France, and dominate from a physical standpoint if they are to win. However, we feel the changes coach Nick Mallett made were unneccasary and will only disrupt a winning formula. Scotland to win by the smallest of margins!

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Simon Danielli, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Nikki Walker, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Kelly Brown, 7 John Barclay, 6 Nathan Hines, 5 Alastair Kellock (c), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Euan Murray, 18 Richie Vernon, 19 Alasdair Strokosch, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Dan Parks, 22 Nick De Luca.

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Kris Burton, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Paul Derbyshire, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Valerio Bernabo, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Luke McLean.
Date: Saturday, 19 March
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Alan Lewis and John Lacey (both Ireland)
TMO: Hugh Watkins (Wales)