Can the Azzurri spring an upset in Rome? Here's the team news, key issues and TV details you need for the Six Nations match between Italy and Scotland on Saturday
Six Nations Italy v Scotland Preview
It won’t be lost on Scotland that Italy’s last Guinness Six Nations victory came against them in 2015. Two years before that saw Italy’s last home win in the championship, against Ireland.
Both those grim facts for the Azzurri could be superseded on Saturday when the Scots visit Stadio Olimpico (2.15pm) – but don’t bet on it. There remains a clear gulf in class between the two teams and it will take something exceptional for Italy to end their infamous 35-match losing run in the tournament.
Scotland’s bright start to 2022, with that win against England, has dissipated. The missed opportunity was Wales in round two because France in round three were way too powerful for a Scottish side deprived of its (then) first-choice back row.
Conceding a hatful of attacking breakdown penalties was one outcome but you do wonder what might have happened had Stuart Hogg not dropped a scoring pass just before half-time. “If he catches the ball and they score, the place goes berserk and it could be a different game,” said TV pundit Martin Johnson.
Head coach Gregor Townsend is dealing in hard evidence, however, and one concern is the absence of his main strike weapon Duhan van der Merwe, scorer of ten tries in his 16 Tests. The Worcester winger is averaging 108 carry metres in this season’s Gallagher Premiership – the best in the league – but has paid the price for a loose hand-off last weekend against London Irish that resulted in a contentious red card and suspension.
Related: Watch Duhan van der Merwe red card
On the plus side, the return of Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson sees the back row strength restored and crazy whispers that Finn Russell might be dropped proved unfounded. Victory in Rome would send them to Dublin next week with a shot at matching the three wins they achieved in each of the past two years.
Back on home soil, Italy must aim high. A meagre haul of 16 points from three defeats, and no try for 227 minutes, fails to tell the story because they fought like fury in Dublin in impossible circumstances. Reduced to 13 men for most of the match due to injury and a red card, they conceded only 36 points before three late tries swelled the margin to 57-6.
Loosehead Danilo Fischetti and skipper Michele Lamaro led a rearguard action that surely impressed all who watched it. “It does feel like there is some form of foundation beginning to be built,” said Brian O’Driscoll. “For any success you’re going to have, the starting point is your defence, its intent and willingness and desire. It could have been 80 (points) but they dug in and they should take a good piece of pride from that performance.”
Coach Kieran Crowley has rewarded that effort by making no changes to the starting XV other than those enforced by injury.
Before the match, eight Italian greats will receive a special cap to mark reaching 100 caps for their country. Martin Castrogiovanni, Marco Bortolami, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero, Alessandro Troncon, Mauro Bergamasco and Alessandro Zanni will all be in attendance, along with Sara Barattin, the only Italy women’s player to achieve the feat.
Sergio Parisse, Italy’s most capped player with 142 caps, will be absent as he plays for his club side Toulon this weekend. It remains to be seen whether that outing will be enough to earn him a farewell Test appearance against Wales next weekend. It looks unlikely.
For the first time, the teams will be playing for the Cuttitta Cup, a new trophy celebrating the contribution of Massimo Cuttitta to rugby. The former Italy captain and Scotland scrum coach died of covid 11 months ago at the age of just 54.
His twin brother Marcello, a former Italy winger, said: “Massimo loved Scotland. He loved the Scottish people.
“There’s always a story behind sporting trophies and to think that in 100 years’ time people will hear the story of Massimo when they see this trophy is incredible.”
The trophy has been crafted by Edinburgh jewellers Hamilton & Inches and their innovative design features the loosehead prop as one handle of the trophy and the tighthead as the other. “The cup is fantastic. Thank you with all our hearts,” said Marcello.
What’s the big team news?
Scotland bring five players into the starting XV following their chastening day against France. Watson (Covid) and Matt Fagerson (foot) offer much-needed power in the back row, with Nick Haining dropping out and Magnus Bradbury put on the bench.
Rory Darge switches to the No 6 shirt two weeks after his outstanding debut against the French, while George Turner swaps in for Stuart McInally at hooker.
In the backs, van der Merwe’s suspension opens the door for Kyle Steyn, who wins his fourth cap and his first away from Murrayfield. The Glasgow wing scored four tries on his one previous Test start, against Tonga last autumn.
In midfield, Sam Johnson returns for Sione Tuipulotu, who is part of a bench featuring a change of half-backs in Adam Hastings and the uncapped Ben Vellacott.
Apart from Darge (for Jamie Ritchie, who has a hamstring injury) and Steyn, it’s the same Scotland XV that defeated Australia last November.
Italy head coach Crowley has kept faith with the side that gutsed it out in Dublin, with the two changes both forced upon him.
Gianmarco Lucchesi dislocated his elbow against Ireland and Epalahame Faiva has been slapped with a four-week ban after his high tackle on Dan Sheehan. So there’s a debut for Benetton hooker Giocomo Nicotera. Former captain Luca Bigi will replace him off the bench.
And Callum Braley comes in at scrum-half for Stephen Varney, who has failed to recover from an unspecified injury suffered against Ireland.
French-born full-back Ange Capuozzo will hope to make his Test debut as a replacement, the 22-year-old being part of a five-three split on the bench. Back-row Abraham Steyn, carded in Dublin for deliberately knocking the ball into touch, is omitted.
What have the coaches said?
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley: “We face a team who have shown their worth in their previous matches in the championship. It’s a chance to play in front of our fans. We want to turn the page and react on the pitch with a big performance.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend: “Hamish had a very good game in Cardiff and Matt started the championship very well too, so having them back adds to our experience.
On the half-backs: “Ben’s form in the first half of the season was excellent. He’s earned his opportunity and his pace could be a real weapon for us going into the final quarter.
“Adam responded really well to not being in the squad. His last two games for Gloucester have been at a high level. He’s putting that form together at the right time for us.”
Scotland scrum coach Pieter de Villiers: “As much as France were very good in terms of putting pressure on, we probably weren’t as good in terms of our territorial game and putting pressure on. That’s something the boys have discussed.
“It’s been fantastic to see our depth grow over the past two seasons. It (Rome) is a difficult place to play, a passionate place in terms of energy and people behind their team. We need to get off to a good start against a team who will have a lot of physicality and emotion.’’
Any interesting statistics?
- Italy are on a record 35-match losing run in the Six Nations. Their last win in the championship came against Scotland in 2015
- Scotland have twice nilled Italy in their past five Six Nations meetings – 29-0 at Murrayfield in 2017 and 17-0 on their previous visit to Rome in 2020
- Flanker Michele Lamaro, the Italy captain, made 59 tackles in the first three rounds – the most in the championship
- Scotland have won 42 of their 43 lineouts, a table-topping 98% success rate. But they’ve only stolen 7% of opposition throws (3/42), the lowest rate of any nation in 2022
- Only England’s Freddie Steward has covered more ground ball in hand than Stuart Hogg, who has made 326 metres from 33 carries
- Federico Ruzza’s 19 takes put him top of the tournament’s lineout stats
- Scotland’s 91% success rate off the kicking tee is the best figure in the championship. Italy are second with 80%
- Back-rows Rory Darge (36%) and Toa Halafihi (33%) are the top two players for defensive ruck effectiveness (minimum ten rucks attended)
- Hamish Watson has made all of his 31 tackles this year. He has now made 180 tackles in the Six Nations since his last miss, against England in 2019
- Ali Price, winning his 50th cap, has scored just one try in seven Tests against Italy but has four try assists in his previous two outings against them
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Italy v Scotland, Saturday 12 March at Stadio Olimpico
The match kicks off at 2.15pm in Rome (GMT) and will be broadcast live on ITV. There will be radio commentary on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.
Luke Pearce from the RFU is the referee for this one, with Andrew Brace (IRFU) and Craig Evans (WRU) his trusty assistants and Stuart Terheege (RFU) the Television Match Official. Brace will be in charge for Italy’s final match next weekend against Wales.
What are the line-ups?
Italy: Edoardo Padovani; Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Leonardo Marin, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Callum Braley; Danilo Fishetti, Giocomo Nicotera, Pietro Ceccarelli, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli, Michele Lamaro (capt), Toa Halafihi.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 David Sisi, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Marco Zanon, 23 Ange Capuozzo.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); 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.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jamie Hodgson, 20 Magnus Bradbury, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Sione Tuipulotu.
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