Scotland out to maintain momentum
August 19, 2011
Joe Ansbro's try ensured Scotland's Rugby World Cup warm-up preparations started with a victory over Ireland © Getty Images
Scotland will step up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Coach Andy Robinson opted for just two warm-up games before their World Cup campaign kicks off against Romania on September 10, and as a result this game against the Azzurri, which follows their 10-6 victory over Ireland earlier this month, represents his final chance to survey his charges.
The Scots were far from convincing in an error-ridden performance against a second-string Ireland and only secured the win after a late try from Joe Ansbro. Despite that victory, Robinson has made 14 changes to give his players the chance to force their way into his World Cup plans as well as the Scots' starting XV.
Italy also opted for two warm-up games before beginning their campaign in New Zealand against Australia on September 11. They escaped a pre-tournament upset as they edged out Japan 31-24 in Cesena last weekend and as a result coach Nick Mallett may have thought twice before opting to rotate his options this weekend. His decision to ring the changes hints at a certain amount of confidence, perhaps stemming from his side's recent good fortune against the Scots, but can they conjure the kind of form that accounted for France in this year's Six Nations?
Scotland - Player to Watch: Toulon's Rory Lamont makes his first international appearance of the year at fullback after Chris Paterson was given first opportunity to claim the No.15 shirt following injury to Hugo Southwell. Lamont will hope to add an attacking thrust to Scotland's game.
Scotland - Team News: Centre Graeme Morrison is the sole survivor from the victory over Ireland. Morrison is partnered in midfield by Nick de Luca while Simon Danielli and Max Evans fill the flanks. The experienced duo of Mike Blair and Dan Parks take over a half-backs. Chris Cusiter and Euan Murray will hope to prove their fitness from the bench. Saracens' Kelly Brown takes the back-row berth alongside new Sale signing Richie Vernon and established openside John Barclay.
Italy - Player to Watch: Andrea Masi returns at fullback for Italy for the first time since since leaving the field after only half an hour of the Six Nations clash between the sides in Edinburgh five months ago. Masi was named player of the tournament and is set to be a central figure in Italy's Rugby World Cup campaign.
Ireland - Team News: Captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse, centre Tommaso Benvenuti, hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini and prop Andrea Lo Cicero are the only players to be retained from the Japan game. Along with the return of Masi, Mirco Bergamasco is also back on the left wing after missing the Cesena clash.
Key Battle: With the experienced duo of Kelly Brown and John Barclay returning to Scotland's backrow alongside the promising Richie Vernon, a cracking confrontation with Italy's physical loose forwards is on the card. Italy's ability to slow down the opposition's ball could scupper Scotland's hopes of crossing the try line.
Trivia: Dan Parks, who debuted for Scotland in 2004, has a 38% win ratio with the national team while his younger rival for the fly-half berth, Ruaridh Jackson, has a 42% win ratio during his brief international career.
Stats: Italy's only victory over Scotland came in 2007 but they have since recorded wins against the Scots on home soil in 2008 and 2010.
"They do have the potential to destroy teams with their forward power and I think that is similar to those teams (Romania and Georgia). On their day if you're not able to play through the forwards, they will beat you."
"The problem at number 10 is a problem Italy has had for 10 years, the problem is top division teams have always signed contracts with foreigners to play at 10 who can't play for Italy. We saw the same problem at scrum-half for my first two years. I'm delighted we've found (Edoardo) Gori and (Fabio) Semenzato.."
Prediction: The boot of Dan Parks to guide Scotland to victory in a scrappy and stilted game at which will none the less keep the Scots in sound spirits ahead of their World Cup assault.
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