THE three changes in the team are all in the pack. The priority this weekend, without which victory will be impossible, is to get the set piece sorted out.
But Duncan Weir knows that the tussle in front of him will only be half the battle. If and when the Scotland forwards get the upper hand against Italy, it will be up to him and the other backs to make good use of possession – better use, that is, than they managed against either Ireland or England.
Six points from two penalties is Scotland’s dismal total so far. On Saturday, Weir is aware that the team will have to muster up far more of a threat with the ball in their hands. There will be no radical alteration in the game plan, because to throw caution to the wind would be tantamount to throwing the match away. But, on a drier, harder pitch, and on a warmer day than Dublin or Edinburgh offered for Scotland’s first two games in the Six Nations, we can expect something more adventurous, perhaps even more incisive.
“There was a lot of lessons learned against England, and we’ve been given the task to go out and put them right on hopefully a nice Saturday afternoon in Rome,” said Weir, for whom this will be a first visit to Rome in any capacity. “Fingers crossed we can do that. We all know that the performance against England was not good enough. We’ve reviewed the game and it’s done. It’s about how we win on Saturday that matters now – how we can play as a backline and as a team to try and exploit the weaknesses in the Italian team. Against Ireland, some of our attacking was pretty good.
“We need to build on that this weekend and have a more clinical edge as well – make sure we’re punishing teams when we get try-scoring opportunities. We need to make sure that last pass or final contact before scoring is crisp. In the ten role I feel comfortable in that. At ten you’ve got a lot of decisions to make and a lot of scanning to do. You need to see where the space is and find it. It’s about doing all this on the hoof and doing it a wee bit sharper.”
With ten appearances for Scotland so far, the 22-year-old remains a relative novice in Test rugby. He possibly learned more about the role of an international stand-off from the England game than he did from his previous nine caps, such was the pressure Scotland were under in that match. As he looks ahead to Italy, he knows his task now is to prove he has mastered the lessons of that defeat. “I’ve never been under so much pressure as I was in that England game,” he said. “England were camped in our half for the entire second half and we all know how disappointing the game was. We need to learn fast, but we are an ambitious squad, and I believe in the squad, that’s for sure. We know the performance against England was well below par.
“After the England game it was pretty dark – you couldn’t take many positives away from that game. Everybody went into their shells a little bit and a lot of soul-searching was done. You have to take a backwards step and go back to basics in many respects. Having had time away after the England game, we are focused again. You wanted to duck and dive a little bit. I know not everyone in the population knows about rugby but I remember a couple of uni students eyeing me up and down in the supermarket. I wanted to get my messages and get out the door. Hopefully we can win in Rome and write a happier script. My body and mind wasn’t in good shape after the England game but with my week off I’m raring to go again.”
Raring to go, and raring to show he can orchestrate an attack ball in hand, he said: “As a team we’ve been frustrated because we haven’t put any kind of passage of play together. All the lads know their roles a lot more clearly and I think we’ve ironed out the creases on the training field.”
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