As Super Saturday and the final round of the Six Nations comes to a thrilling conclusion we’ll be addressing each match individually. After Round 4’s breathtaking action last weekend, we felt that this last round of matches deserve their own pieces. Scotland and Italy get us underway on Saturday, and it was clear that Scotland faltered badly last weekend against Ireland. The month long absence from Six Nations rugby as a result of the Scots delayed Round 3 match with France, simply took too much momentum out of their campaign which had already come unstuck against Wales in Round 2.
Italy meanwhile could use no such excuses against Grand Slam front runners Wales, and as the tournament has wore on the Azurri engine has started to look increasingly faulty. All Italy would seem to have now is passion, but a lack of discipline, execution and overall skill levels have been exposed and the gap is once more widening between Italy and the rest of the tournament’s competitors. In short, as it is every year for Italy, it’s wooden spoon time again.
Scotland vs Italy – Saturday, March 20th – Edinburgh
The tournament’s two most frustrated sides meet in a Edinburgh on Saturday, and it would appear that yet another dead rubber is on the cards as Italy continue to go from bad to worse as the tournament draws to a close. It’s unfortunate as Italy did make an encouraging start but, as they do every year, seem unable to live up to the promise of what would once again appear to bet yet another false dawn. Having said that we’d still argue that this is the best side Italy have fielded in the competition to date, and they have in the past raised themselves to another level in Murrayfield. In short it would be unfair to write them off just yet.
Scotland know that their Championship is now over, even if Wales come short against France, but a strong finish to a campaign that has gone horribly flat at the halfway mark, is still a goal worth pursuing. Scotland are a good team, of that there is no doubt, but consistency is simply not their strong point. If they are to really look to the next World Cup with confidence then consistency in the face of adversity is what they need, and this Six Nations will be the best possible test of Scottish character in that regard.
Rugby’s most frustrating job
There was that ever so tantalising hint at the beginning of this Six Year’s Nations, that Italy might just be starting to turn a corner. Not necessarily in getting results, but definitely in terms of learning which would ultimately start to bring them those elusive wins. After 4 increasingly poor Rounds, it would appear that Italy remain firmly rooted to Square One. The only education they seem to have had consistently this tournament is how far they lag behind the tournament’s other competitors for the 21st straight year in a row. Their harsh schoolings at the hands of France, England, Ireland and Wales have been almost painful to watch at times, made even more so by the fact that ultimately Italy have only themselves to blame. They aren’t a bad team on paper but on the pitch they lack cohesion, discipline and above all the execution needed for 80 minutes to compete at this level. We’re frustrated watching them and can only imagine what the players and Coaching staff must feel like. As Franco Smith spent large periods of last weekend’s game against Wales with his head in his hands, it would appear that Italy arrive in Edinburgh as a lost cause as another year goes begging.
A notable inclusion joins on paper a good squad
As regular readers know we are fans of Italian second rower Frederico Ruzza, so much so that his continued omission from Italy’s starting lineup and often not even making the bench has left us rather confused to say the least. Consequently imagine our delight to see him starting on Saturday against Scotland. When you look at the starting lineup for Italy for the Scottish encounter, we’d argue that either Franco Smith is throwing everything he can at the Scots or he truly has saved the best for last. For us this is the Italian squad that should have played every match. Danilo Fischetti at loosehead, Ruzza in the second row, Sebastien Negri in the back row, Stephen Varney at 9, Paolo Garbisi at 10, Marco Zanon in the centres (even if he only makes the bench for this match), and Monty Ioane on the wings is the core of a dynamic Italian team. The only current weak link is no definite candidate for a jersey at fullback, but hopefully that will come in time. However, with these 7 individuals there is enough of a spine for Italy to be able to compete at this level and it will be fascinating to see if they rise to the challenge on Saturday.
Talking of conundrums
Scotland should comfortably win this match unless the core of the Italian team above have something to say about it, hence we were rather surprised to see Stuart Hogg who normally excels at fullback for Scotland be shifted to the number 10 berth in the absence of the injured Finn Russell. Surely this would have been the opportunity to give Edinburgh fly half Jaco van der Walt a good run in the starting jersey at 10, leaving Hogg to do what he does best – counterattack from deep? If like Italy, Scotland are looking to learn a thing or two from this Six Nations campaign then this is clearly an opportunity gone begging. Enough said.
Back where he belongs
As mentioned above, Scottish Coach Gregor Townsend’s selection decisions have often left us scratching our heads and it would appear we are not alone. Centre Huw Jones brings so much X factor to Scotland as evidenced by his cameo appearance off the bench last weekend against Ireland, that we fail to understand why he has not been a shoe in from the outset for Scotland in this Six Nations campaign. Scotland’s centre pairing have been their consistent weak link in the tournament so far. Jones has the added advantage of being able to cover on the wings or at fullback, so where has he been when arguably Scotland have needed him most? A good performance Saturday is likely to provide Townsend the justification he needs to put this debate to rest once and for all, especially teamed up with Sam Johnson who we felt had a good match last weekend.
The Gas Man
While injuries have not been kind to the Scottish speedster, there is no denying that, along with Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg, Graham completes the Scottish school of wizardry contingent. These three would all gain scholarships at Harry Potter’s famous Hogwarts, such is their ability to flip a game on its head and their skills in the transfiguration department. Graham exemplifies Scotland’s love of a free running and expansive game. With the weather set to cooperate at Murrayfield on Saturday, and Italy struggling defensively with 101 missed tackles to Scotland’s 30 there could be some genuine excitement on display here.
This in theory is a fairly straightforward contest to call. Unless Italy arrive in Scotland having transformed themselves beyond recognition and the above mentioned spine really come to play, then the Scots should walk away with a comfortable points haul to allow them to at least attempt to salvage a strong finish in Paris next week. Scotland should finish the tournament on a high note and much further up the standings than they currently are. It’s unlikely that Italy will pull off the upset of the tournament they did at Murrayfield on the final weekend of the Six Nations in 2015, when the beat the Scots 22-19, but expect them to give it a good go but Scotland to have none of it.