Wounded Scots out for redemption
February 25, 2010
Can Dan Parks shake off the agony of defeat in Cardiff and inspire Scotland? © Getty Images
Italy welcome Scotland to Rome's Stadio Flaminio on Saturday, with two wounded sides squaring off in an all-too-familiar situation.
The Wooden Spoon is dangling over the head of Italy boss Nick Mallett and his Scottish counterpart Andy Robinson following defeats to England and Wales respectively, although the reversals arrived in entirely different fashions.
Italy's loss to England was full of grit and determination and they came close, as close as they ever have, to an upset yet their final moments were beset by an uncertainty and lack of belief. Scotland, in stark contrast, were organised and effective in Cardiff, dominating their hosts throughout before a bout of yellow fever and one of the most thrilling, yet heartbreaking, conclusions to any game.
Recovering from such a defeat is job number one for the Scots and they must do so without a number of key players. Thom Evans, Chris Paterson and Rory Lamont all picked up tournament-ending injuries at the Millennium Stadium, with Paterson and Evans forced into lengthy hospital stays.
Nevertheless, Robinson's men have the goods to deliver. Their back-row, Glasgow's John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie and Kelly Brown, may not be the most physical but it is arguably the most balanced in the tournament. In Sean Lamont, Max Evans and Simon Danielli they have strike runners who will cause damage and in Dan Parks they now seemingly have a fly-half who will dictate play.
Parks was the key to much of their good work against Wales and he must learn from the lesson taught to Jonny Wilkinson and England by the Azzurri in that bravery will pay off, but a conservative gameplan will result in an extremely difficult arm-wrestle of an afternoon.
Chris Cusiter has spoken of the honesty in the camp following their harrowing Wales defeat and they will remember all too well their loss in Rome in 2008, when, buoyed by a Calcutta Cup victory over England, they let their standards slip and were punished by an Andrea Marcato drop-goal. The start of the tournament held plenty of hope, with home games against France and England and this away trip to Italy, but the result didn't materialise in their opener and their season once again hangs in the balance as they prepare to face Italy.
Mallett will be hoping that Scotland bring some baggage with them to Rome as his side will again go into the game as underdogs. Their heart has never been in doubt but finding the way to the tryline has proved extremely difficult. Scotland got that monkey off their back last time out but Italy showed little attacking invention against England and never looked likely to claim their unlikely victory after Jonny Wilkinson had placed them out of reach of a drop-goal.
Craig Gower's kicking game is still developing while fullback Luke McLean was guilty of kicking away as much ball as the England back-three. They showed a willingness to run from deep a lack of genuine pace impeded their progress, and the link play of injured skipper Sergio Parisse was sorely missed. Two blockbusting centres, Gonzalos Garcia and Canale, will hope to make inroads while the forwards will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on the faltering Scottish scrum.
Plenty at stake for both sides, then, but problems to be dealt with beforehand. Don't count on a thriller, but ready yourselves for plenty of heart from both sides.
Italy: LMcLean (Benetton Treviso); A Masi (Racing Metro Paris), G Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), G Garcia (Benetton Treviso), M Bergamasco (Stade Francais); C Gower (Bayonne), T Tebaldi (Gran Parma); S Perugini (Bayonne), L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), Q Geldenhuys (Viadana), M Bortolami (Gloucester), J Sole (Viadana), M Bergamasco (Stade Francais), A Zanni (Benetton Treviso)
Replacements: F Ongaro (Saracens), M Aguero (Saracens), C Del Fava (Viadana), P Derbyshire (Petrarca Padova), P Canavosio (MPS Viadana), R Bocchino (Rovigo), K Robertson (Viadana)
Scotland: H Southwell (Stade Francais); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Glasgow, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow)
Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), A Dickinson (Gloucester), N Hines (Leinster), A Strokosch (Gloucester), M Blair (Edinburgh), P Godman (Edinburgh), N De Luca (Edinburgh)
Referee: Dave Pearson (Eng)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ire), Tim Hayes (Wal)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wal)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.