Italy vs. Scotland: 6 Players with a Point to Prove in Six Nations Clash
The destination of the wooden spoon for 2014 could be decided in Rome on Saturday. Scotland travel to the Italian capital at possibly their lowest point in Six Nations history.
Two inept defeats against Ireland and England have prompted an outpouring of gloom about the state of Scottish rugby, summed up no better than in this excellent piece by BBC Sport's Tom Fordyce.
Italy have also suffered two defeats, but the difference is they have gone down swinging on both occasions, scoring tries and at least looking as though they pose a threat in both the forwards and occasionally out wide.
Nevertheless, this is the battle of the basement boys in this year’s Six Nations.
These are the men who need to stand up for their teams.
1. Johnnie Beattie
Beattie is the latest odd selection decision by Scott Johnson.
He has been picked over Dave Denton, who was the one player in the Scottish side in their first two games to have posed a threat to the opposition with his powerful ball-carrying.
The Telegraph’s Alasdair Reid suggests that Beattie's offloading skills have won him the No. 8 shirt for this encounter as Johnson looks to add a bit more fluidity to Scotland’s style.
Beattie must prove he can link up with the backs when Scotland attack if his selection is to be justified.
Denton will surely be called off the bench at some point.
2. Richie Gray
The Lion is recalled by Scott Johnson after being puzzlingly left out for the clash with England. Gray needs to find his best form to put some fire in the belly of this Scotland pack.
At his best he can rampage all over the field making hits and running with ball in hand, but he will also need to front up in the tight exchanges against an Italian pack who will not take a backward step.
Scotland’s lineout was also a mess against England and primarily Gray has been brought back to help sort that out. No pressure there, then.
3. Chris Fusaro
Fusaro was out-muscled by the English back row at Murrayfield. But he has another chance to prove he can apply his style to Test rugby despite his smaller stature.
He has an important part to play in Rome to disrupt Italy’s powerful forward pack by forcing some turnovers and disrupting their momentum.
He told Press Association Sport (h/t to the The Independent) before the England game that his aggression made up for his lack of size, but we saw little evidence of that at Murrayfield.
Time for that to be unleashed at the Stadio Olimpico.
4. Tommaso Allan
The man formerly known as Tommy turned out for Scotland U20 before deciding to try his luck in Italy.
Now he comes face-to-face with the country he spurned. Given Scotland’s current troubles, he seems to have made a wise choice, but Allan’s goal kicking is fast becoming the Achilles' heel of the Azzurri in the championship.
He missed a conversion and penalty against Wales and a further two penalties against France. That’s 11 points thrown down the drain in the championship so far.
Saturday’s contest is certain to be a tight one as both sides who struggle to find the try line come face-to-face, so chances for points from the boot will take on even greater significance.
Allan needs to fix his radar.
5 and 6. the Record Breakers
Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parisse both earn their 104th caps on Saturday, passing Andrea Lo Cicero’s record to become their country’s most-capped players.
And both have important work to do against Scotland. For Parisse, the absence of Dave Denton from the Scottish lineup gives him less of a ball-carrying threat to worry about. He must take advantage of that and take this game by the scruff of the neck.
Parisse has the ability to dominate a game on his own when he is in the mood.
For Castrogiovanni, this is an opportunity to build on the impressive work the Italian scrum did last time out in Paris.
The Azzurri were well on top of the French front-row and will be looking to do a similar job on Scotland, with Castro in the vanguard of their effort.
Italy’s two elder statesmen need to deliver in Rome.
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