Scotland v Italy: Six Nations preview as hosts to hold on against the Azzurri in frenetic battle
The final round of the Six Nations has arrived, and Super Saturday begins with an interesting battle between two sides in different spaces yet sharing some similarities, Scotland and Italy.
Both teams have shown impressive development in this year’s tournament, with the major difference being Scotland getting reward for their improvement and performances where Italy have not.
The Scots broke their second round duck with a commanding win against Wales but have not claimed another victory since. However, despite not winning, the next two games showed promise as Gregor Townsend’s side ran France close in a red card littered Round Three Test whilst last weekend stood up to Ireland for three-quarters of the game before being blown away.
The loss of influential duo Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg to injury is cruelly timed for the Scots, and it will be fascinating to see how Blair Kinghorn and Ollie Smith do in their place. Interestingly, Ben Healy could make his debut off the bench.
Meanwhile, in the Azzurri camp, it was clear the side missed the cutting edge of Ange Capuozzo against Wales, where they created a host of opportunities and did not capitalise.
It has been a promising yet frustrating campaign for head coach Kieran Crowley, who is clearly sick of his team being seen as impressive developers without any results in the green to show for.
Never write off a team like Italy, who will welcome the sidelining of Russell and Hogg. It is another big Test at Murrayfield that Scotland will be expected to win.
Where the game will be won
As always, set-piece is absolutely vital. The two sides have given away the most scrum penalties in the competition, with Italy notching up four more than Scotland. The hosts will be looking to leverage this with their comparatively settled front-row.
Italy’s line-out has been neat for the most part and worked reasonably well all campaign, and with Scotland having gone through so many second-rows in the past few games they could exploit that area. Sam Skinner, however, is no slouch.
Outside of the set-piece the Azzurri have the opportunity to prevent Kinghorn from finding his rhythm at pivot, which would be crucial considering how crucial Russell has been to the attacking output of the glowing centre painting of Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones.
Unsettle Kinghorn, and there could be reward.
Last time they met
What they said
Scotland forwards coach John Dalziel says there has been a shift in mentality from the group and insists they are looking to finish on a high and take the momentum into the World Cup.
“I feel as a coach, there seems to be a shift in the group, a maturity,” he said. “We’re training, acting and behaving like a completely different team and there’s a confidence level.
“I think there’s more to come. The group are in a good position, we want to finish the Six Nations on a high against Italy and we want to kick on at the World Cup. The biggest growth we’ll get as coaches is in that World Cup cycle.”
Meanwhile, talented Italian fly-half Paolo Garbisi is delighted with the style of rugby the team is playing despite their lack of wins.
“Italy haven’t played this brand of rugby before and it’s something different,” said Garbisi on the Rugby Pod. “It was a challenge for us at the beginning but now it is fun because you see how you can really break defences with this system having all these opportunities, having all the players around you and having so many different options, you can see it actually works on the field. This is why it is fun.”
Players to watch
Hamish Watson returns to the Scottish line-up this week at openside flank and will be prepared to empty his tank as he always does. The experienced star has had limited influence on this year’s Six Nations and will be itching to lay down a marker in the final round. It’s a big game for the star in the context of the World Cup.
All eyes will be on Blair Kinghorn this weekend as he takes on the fly-half role. There are already questions asked about whether Healy may have been a more sound option, even if that means blooding the star on the Test scene in a starting role. Nevertheless, the Edinburgh man is very, very talented, but whether he can ignite a backline like Russell remains to be seen. He needs to execute the fundamentals perfectly from the start and grow into the contest.
It is a massive Test for Ollie Smith, who steps into the big shoes of Hogg at 15. The Glasgow Warrior is certainly accomplished and looks to have a bright future ahead of him. It is a great opportunity to start putting his hand up to be Hogg’s successor – a decision that will have to be made sooner rather than later.
Lorenzo Cannone has been a powerhouse for the Azzurri throughout their campaign. He is a relentless carrier and a grafter in defence. Alongside Michele Lamaro and Sebastian Negri, the trio have the chance to cause real problems for Scotland. It will be a brilliant back-row battle.
Fly-half Paolo Garbisi would have been licking his lips when he heard Russell was ruled out, as it gives the playmaker a real opportunity to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The Italian is supremely talented and will be the side’s go-to man for years to come. These are the kinds of Tests Azzurri fans will want to see him be decisive in.
Renfort de poids 💪
Paolo Garbisi est 𝗱𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗿 ce week-end avec l’Italie 🇮🇹#SixNations | #SixNations2023 pic.twitter.com/x4yR5uxO4V
— Six Nations (FR) (@SixNations_FR) February 23, 2023
Emerging talent Simone Gesi makes his Test debut on the left wing this week. At 21 years old, the prospect will be looking to stamp his mark on the Test circuit. There is much excitement around the youngster, who has been prolific in a struggling Zebre Parma side.
This Test features an exciting battle between two stars who have performed well this season; one who sits top of the try-scoring charts and the other a shining light in a winless campaign.
Huw Jones has been on absolute fire through this year’s tournament and leads the competition in tries scored. His ability to exploit the outside channel has been fantastic in transition play, and his technique of running the perfect lines has been penetrating at times. In partnership with Tuipulotu, the pair ‘Huwipulotu’ have been a joy to watch.
🔪 Fantastic line from Huw Jones to slice through the French defence.#FRAvSCO #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/rY6Ax0Gods
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) February 26, 2023
Meanwhile, Juan Ignacio Brex has been outstanding for his country throughout. His workrate is tremendous, and his knowledge of the game very impressive. The centre has made over 300 metres with ball in hand and has been crucial to the Azzurri’s attacking structures. He will be on hand again to passionately fight for his side on Super Saturday.
In many regards it has been a positive campaign for both teams, and Italy will be boosted by Scotland’s loss of the influential stars Russell and Hogg. However, the way in which Townsend’s side has developed and shown they can match some of the best sides in the world may prove too much. It will be an electric game, but ultimately Scotland will win by around eight points.
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
2017: Scotland won 29-0 in Edinburgh
Scotland: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 WP Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath
Italy: 15 Tommy Allan, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Edoardo Iachizzi, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Manuel Zuliani, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Luca Morisi
Date: Saturday, March 18
Kick-off: 12:30 GMT
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)
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