Italy v Scotland preview: Toonie’s charges to conquer Rome in double-digit Six Nations win

Jared Wright
Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi and Scotland captain Finn Russell during the Six Nations.

Italy fly-half Paolo Garbisi and Scotland captain Finn Russell during the Six Nations.

Italy and Scotland will meet in Rome on Saturday, and the two sides will have an opportunity to continue their press for unprecedented Six Nations finishes.

Gregor Townsend and his charges head to the Stadio Olimpico with the slimmest of chances of remaining in the race for a maiden Six Nations title but will rely on their Auld Enemy to do them a favour against the double Grand Slam-chasing Irish.

Welcoming them to the Eternal City is a confident Italian side that fell the width of an upright of defeating France for the first time in the Six Nations. Gonzalo Quesada’s side have collected three points from their opening three games of the tournament, which has not been enough to avoid propping up the table. Still, a positive result from their last two matches could see them avoid a ninth straight wooden spoon finish.

Both sides are aiming to keep their targets alive this weekend, which should produce a cracking encounter.

Where the game will be won

The set-pieces and the battle in the pack is always the launchpad for any success in an international match; a case in point will be Italy’s torrid performance against Ireland earlier in the tournament. However, tight-five parity or not, the battle for territory will be fought through the boot on Saturday, as the Azzurri really need to be on point if they are to stay in the fight. Italy’s kicking game has improved astronomically under Quesada’s guidance, but they now face arguably their toughest assignment in this facet of the game.

Fail to counter the presence of Finn Russell and Blair Kinghorn’s boots in Rome, and the Italians will be left in ruins.

Last time they met

What they said

Scotland assistant coach Peter Horne says that they are happy with where they are in the Six Nations and has urged the side to get the job done this weekend.

“We’re not talking too much about any of that,” said Horne, referencing their chances of winning the Six Nations if Ireland lose to England.

“We’ve spent the whole week talking about controlling everything that is in our power. We need to do a professional job this weekend, go over there and beat Italy. That’s all we are focused on.

“We’re pretty happy with where we’re at. We feel like the tweaks to our game, the way we’ve evolved since the World Cup, have been good. We’re right in the mix, and we should be three from three (after what would have been a match-winning try against France was controversially disallowed). We can’t be disappointed with that, but we definitely feel that we’ve left a lot of opportunities out there.

“It’s a good place to be where we’re getting some decent results but we’re still not playing quite at our potential.”

Meanwhile, Azzurri prop Simone Ferrari previewed the battle up front with the Scots and says that the Italians will be keeping a close eye on Russell.

“Scotland are a team that really like to attack and are very good at it. They have a top-notch lineout and a very tough pack that will try to hit hard in the scrum, as well as players capable of making a difference with their boot, like Finn Russell,” he told the team’s official website.

“It will be important not to be caught by surprise. Clearly, a large part of the match will be decided upfront; we expect a very solid scrum from them and a lineout that will try to compete with our throws.”

Players to watch

Italy’s captain Michele Lamaro was back to some of his best form in the clash against France in Lille and will be eager to produce a similar outing against the Scots. A relentless defender, Lamaro is also a gifted attacker and can shift the ball on nicely to spark an attack or draw in multiple defenders with his bulking carries.

21-year-old back Tommaso Menoncello has enjoyed a fantastic run of form this Six Nations, whether he has featured in the centres or on the wing. An abrasive presence in the backline, he still has plenty of flair about him and is quickly becoming a key cog in the backs on attack and defence.

We can’t not talk about the livewire superstar Ange Capuozzo in the Italian backline. The Toulouse full-back rounded off a stunning try to give Italy a chance at a late winner against France last week, but in general, he is such a joy to watch in possession. His kicking game is improving as he edges towards becoming a more well-rounded player, but goodness, he is a handful when he gets going on attack.

And joining Capuozzo in the back three is Harlequins superstar Louis Lynagh, who makes his Test debut for the Azzurri. The son of the Wallabies great Micheal, Louis has been ripping it up for Harlequins recently, scoring scorching tries when fit. He is absolutely rapid and adds another sublime attacking threat to an already threatening back three. This should be fun.

Sione Tuipulotu’s knee injury has flung the door open for Cameron Redpath to start at inside centre for Scotland, slotting in alongside his Bath teammate Russell. The highly-rated 24-year-old has enjoyed the luxury of featuring alongside Russell in the Premiership and now gets to take that combination to the international stage. While he isn’t as physically abrasive as Tuipulotu, he does have a fantastic skillset and playmaking ability that has worked wonders for Bath.

There is just one change to the starting Scotland pack from the one that defeated England last time out, and that is the inclusion of Andy Christie at blindside flank. The Saracens forward has had two impressive cameos off the bench and now gets his opportunity to shine in the starting XV. A heavy hitting player on both sides of the ball and an excellent lineout jumper, Christie has all the tools to be a quality back-rower for the Scots and gets his chance to show exactly that on Saturday.

It will be hard to miss him, but nonetheless, Duhan van der Merwe is undoubtedly a player to watch this weekend as he edges closer to Stuart Hogg’s record for the most tries in a Scotland jersey. The South African-born powerhouse is one try adrift of Hogg’s record of 27, and on current form, we would not bet against Van der Merwe equalling and then bettering Hogg’s tally on Saturday.

Main head-to-head

If Italy are to have a hope of repeating the performance that they produced against France and get a result out of Saturday’s fixture, much of the game will hinder on the performances of their respective fly-halves and centres. The battle between Juan Ignacio Brex and Huw Jones will certainly be crucial, but more importantly, the clash head-to-head of Paolo Garbisi and Finn Russell will decide the fixture.

When Russell has been at his best this Six Nations, Scotland’s attack has flourished and looked almost unstoppable and while that is a huge part of his game, his tactical kicking is more prominent in how they control the match. Few fly-halves kick better tactically than the Scotsman, and while Garbisi has the potential to do so, he needs to be on top of his game against Russell.

The Italians spent far too much time in their own half against the French during the first 40 in round three and with Les Bleus’ attack stuttering, they were not punished as much as Scotland would likely do. If Garbisi can match or better Russell off the boot and his pack pitches up in the tight, the Azzurri have a chance; if not, it will be a long day at the office.

Prediction

Expect the Italians to put up a good fight on Saturday, as they did against France, but with a rare opportunity to finish second in the Six Nations and perhaps even stay in the race for the title in the unlikely case that Ireland slips up; the Scots will be fired up. Even without star inside centre Tuipulotu, Scotland just seem to have more attacking threats across the park and have had time to fine-tune that during the fallow week.

On paper, they are the stronger side, despite the Azzurri’s strong showing against France. They have struggled to string consistent performances in both halves of matches, but we predict it will come right on Saturday. While the Romans conquered much of Western Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa in their heyday, the Italians are unlikely to have the same success as we predict that Toonie’s charges will conquer Rome, winning by 21 points.

Previous results

2023: Scotland won 25-13 in Edinburgh
2023: Scotland won 26-14 in Edinburgh
2022: Scotland won 33-22 in Rome
2021: Scotland won 52-10 in Edinburgh
2020: Scotland won 28-17 in Florence
2020: Scotland won 17-0 in Rome
2019: Scotland won 33-20 in Edinburgh
2018: Scotland won 29-27 in Rome
2017: Scotland won 34-13 in Singapore

The teams

Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Martin Page-Relo, 8 Ross Vintcent, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Spanish Mirco, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Lorenzo Cannone, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Leonardo Marin, 23 Federico Mori

Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (cc), 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge (cc), 6 Andy Christie, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Matt Fagerson, 22 Ali Price, 23 Kyle Rowe

Date: Saturday, March 9
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Kick-off: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

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