Familiar faces set for Wooden Spoon decider
March 16, 2012
Stuart Hogg can give Scotland a cutting edge © Getty Images
Scotland travel to face Italy in Rome on Saturday with the Six Nations' booby prize again the talk of the terraces.
The Wooden Spoon has become a regular factor in this fixture in recent seasons and the visitors will be feeling the heat this weekend. Their loss to Ireland exhibited a naive streak that must be tamed sooner rather than later.
Italy were dogged and destructive against Wales but appeared terrified of the ball. A classic slugfest could await, although under-fire Scotland coach Andy Robinson will demand that his team play with width and ambition.
Their attacking weapons have been glimpsed fleetingly during the Championship, but not with the desired effects. Italy will offer their usual dose of hard graft and forward grunt, but if he is to point to any progress, and perhaps save his job, Robinson's men must cast off the shackles.
Italy - Player to Watch: The return of tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni is a major boost for the hosts. The Scottish scrum has wobbled at times during the Championship and dominance up front will be job number one, as ever, for Italy.
Italy - Team News: Brunel has made six changes, including the recall for Castrogiovanni. Marco Bortolami returns in the second-row while Simone Favaro has been dropped to the bench, Robert Barbieri starting at openside. In the backs, Giovanbattista Venditti replaces Luke McLean on the right wing and Tommaso Benvenuti starts in midfield. At halfback, Edoardo Gori returns to partner Kris Burton. And in a late change to the starting line-up, Fabio Ongaro has replaced Leonardo Ghiraldini at hooker.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Scotland have been making breaks but failing to finish them, Italy simply haven't been making breaks. A player like Stuart Hogg, the electric Glasgow fullback, could be the difference in a game against conservative opposition.
Scotland - Team News: Robinson has kept faith with his misfiring team, with only one enforced change. Nick De Luca returns from injury at outside-centre, with Max Evans switching to the wing in place of Lee Jones, who was hospitalised with concussion following the Ireland game.
Key Battle: Scotland have nothing to lose here, so must go for the throat. The fear for them is that Italy turn in a similar defensive display to the one that blunted Wales' attack so effectively. If they do, then the scrum could be a major point of difference, with Burton unlikely to pass up too many shots at goal.
Trivia: As they do in this year's tournament, Scotland and Italy prop up the all-time Six Nations table, having accrued 34 and 17 tournament points respectively since 2000.
Stats: A positive result for Italy this weekend would give Marco Bortolami a 50% win ratio against Scotland from 10 appearances, dating back to 2002.
"Everybody's frustrated, everybody's disappointed about the losses and the manner of the losses, but also there is a confidence and an inner strength among the team." - Scotland coach Andy Robinson admits his frustrations after four defeats.
"The England loss cuts me up the most. We could have done that without a doubt and the Ireland game as well because of the way we lost. The best way to approach it is to put them under pressure and get points on the board quickly, when they're under pressure we then need to put them in a corner and leave them there." - Italy scrum-half Edoardo Gori calls for a fast start.
Prediction: Scotland have shown promise in patches. Expect more of the same, but for it to be enough to beat a limited Italy side.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton
Kiwi coaches can be found far and wide across the globe, and Murray Mexted believes the All Blacks benefit every bit as much as their rivals
Clermont, Toulon, player burnout, Sam Burgess and a farewell to Adams Park - Monday Maul looks back at the weekend's action