Wooden spoon again at stake for Scots
March 18, 2011
Can Sergio Parisse keep his side grounded this weekend? © Getty Images
Scotland and Italy go head-to-head at Murrayfield on Saturday with the spectre of the wooden spoon again hanging over them.
For Nick Mallett's Azzurri however, the shadow cast by the prospect of another basement finish has failed to block out the radiant sunshine that has followed the squad since they did away with France last weekend, their first victory over 'big brother' since their introduction to the Six Nations.
Scotland, meanwhile, have plumbed the depths of despair in this year's tournament after entering it in a hugely positive frame of mind. Andy Robinson's men lost out at Twickenham once again last weekend and have no margin for error this time around. A repeat of 2007 - and a big Italian win - cannot be contemplated.
Scotland - Player to Watch: After their scrum was placed under serious pressure by England last weekend, Scotland have opted to send Geoff Cross into the fray. The Edinburgh tight-head will hope for a better outing than his last start, when he lasted 20 minutes against Wales in 2009 before being knocked unconscious while taking Lee Byrne out in the air. His handling of Salvatore Perugini will be vital.
Scotland - Team News: Cross replaces Moray Low, who drops out of the 22, while Newcastle's Euan Murray returns on the bench. In the back-row, Kelly Brown has been cleared to start at No.8 despite being knocked out by a challenge from England's Matt Banahan last weekend. However, the Scots were forced into a late change when Max Evans failed to recover from an ankle injury with his place on the wing going to Nikki Walker.
Italy - Player to Watch: Sergio Parisse may have missed out on the shortlist for Player of the Tournament thanks to its questionable selection criteria, but the Italy skipper will demand your attention this weekend as he seeks to inspire two Championship victories in a season for only the second time.
Italy - Team News: Among the backs, Benetton Treviso's Alberto Sgarbi replaces Gonzalo Garcia at inside-centre while his domestic team-mate Kris Burton takes Luciano Orquera's place at fly-half. Flanker Paul Derbyshire will earn his first Six Nations start, replacing the impressive Robert Barbieri at openside. Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni is the only player retained in the front-row, with Leonardo Ghiraldini and Salvatore Perugini returning at hooker and loose-head respectively. Lock Quintin Geldenhuys also starts after being relegated to the replacements bench last time out.
Key Battle: The Scottish back-row did a good job of putting England under pressure last weekend but will be sorely tested by an Italian trio boasting Parisse and the brilliant Alessandro Zanni. If either team dominates on the floor, expect them to do some damage - even with the limited attacking arsenals available.
Trivia: Six of Italy's starting line-up this weekend played in their previous win at Murrayfield: Parisse, Zanni, Andrea Masi, Mirco Bergamasco and Gonzalo Canale.
Stats: Scotland fullback Chris Paterson will face Italy for a record 12th time this weekend - he also holds the record for most points by a Scottish player in the fixture with 107.
"We have been watching Geoff's performances very closely since the 'A' international win against the Irish at Netherdale back in January and he fully deserves this chance." - Scotland boss Andy Robinson puts his faith in Cross.
"It was a great achievement and we felt overwhelmed with emotion. We finally took a big weight off our shoulders by claiming a victory in the tournament. But now we must remain humble, fly low and continue to train with the same focus as before. If we continue in this path, results will arrive." - Italy centre Alberto Sgarbi
The Odds: Do you have faith in lightning striking twice? If so, Italy are 20-1 to win by 16-20 points with bet365.
Fantasy: Andrea Masi scored Italy's try against France last weekend - could the fullback make it two from two? Why not take a punt in the final week of the ESPNscrum International Rugby Game?
Prediction: Scotland may be staring down the barrel but their performance against England suggests that there is fight in the dog yet. Italy will struggle to back up their win over France on the road and should end up bottom on points difference thanks to their hammering at Twickenham.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
John Griffiths takes an analytical look at Week 3 of ESPN Scrum's Fantasy Rugby game - who should you have picked?
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards