Scotland seek final flourish but coach is wary of Italy

Scotland's Ross Ford trains ahead of the Italy clash. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
Scotland's Ross Ford trains ahead of the Italy clash. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
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Having finished on the losing side four times against Italy in his 77-cap career, Nathan Hines doesn’t need reminding that Scotland would be foolish to go out this afternoon expecting to round off their Six Nations with a heartwarming third win from five.

The assistant coach is confident that the players will respond to last weekend’s collapse at Twickenham and have it in them to get the desired result but, despite Italy losing all four of their games so far, he believes you underestimate the Azzurri at your peril.

One of Hines’ most painful days in a Scotland jersey came back in 2007 when Frank Hadden’s side pushed the self-destruct button and ended up on the wrong end of an embarrassing 37-17 loss to Italy at Murrayfield.

“Oh yeah. Thanks,” Hines said with a wince when reminded of that occasion when, remarkably, Italy exploited a string of Scottish errors to score three tries in the first six minutes.

“I can remember my mood. I can remember what I was saying to myself. I was looking up at the clock and thinking... well, it’s a word that you can’t print.

“I think we got our tactics a little bit wrong that day. It’s something we didn’t prepare for, being that far down.”

Scotland have been the team Italy have had, by far, the most success against in the Six Nations and Hines accepts that they will be targeting this afternoon’s match as an opportunity to end a disappointing campaign on a high.

“It’s not just us in the past, they’ve beaten South Africa recently. They’re a good side and have been leading in most of their games this Six Nations.

“We can’t say they’re just going to turn up. At the end of those games the scoreline has shown different to what they’ve done on the pitch. We need to worry about our performance first because we’re up against a very competitive Italian side who are going to be very motivated to roll us over.”

The carnage at Twickenham will only have added to the 
Italians’ sense of opportunity but Hines is confident that the home side will shake off that disappointment as they return to a sold-out BT Murrayfield this afternoon.

“What I’ve seen from the guys this week is a little bit more resolve and determination,” said Hines. “They’ve certainly asked more questions of themselves than maybe they once did.

“More importantly, they’re giving themselves honest answers. That’s the good thing about this team, they can question themselves – and give themselves a good starting point for the next game.

“The starting point this week is to fix what happened at the weekend.

“This week we’ve been 
asking: ‘What did we do wrong? How do we get better?’

“Up until you get a bad result, you still go through that – when you win, you ask the same questions.

“Against Wales, we didn’t do some things right, we knew we had to improve in the next game. The same thing has 
happened this week.”

A big focus, outwith the camp at any rate, is on the fact that this will be Vern Cotter’s last match in charge of Scotland and it will also be Hines’ farewell to the national set-up as he will join the head coach at Montpellier next season.

The former lock takes a 
similar view to his boss, however, and was not interested in playing that up as a factor.

“All I’m worried about is getting a win,” said Hines. “It’s not about my last game. I just want the boys to get a win against Italy and prove to themselves that they are the team they were before last weekend. One bad game doesn’t make them a bad team and this is an opportunity for them to show it.”

It is also not the time for reflection on the Cotter era, according to Hines.

“I think it will kick in later on, after the tournament,” he added.

“Vern will just focus on getting this job done. Once it’s 
finished, it will be time to review what has happened and what he’s done here.

“He’s the kind of guy who stays focused on what needs to be done. What needs to 
be done is getting a win tomorrow. Vern is quite focused. He knows what needs to be done and doesn’t skirt around it. He just gets straight to the point.

“One thing you need in international rugby – or rugby – is you don’t want it to be all 
blurry around the edges.

“You need to know what has to be done and get it done now.”

Scotland got their first opening Six Nations win for 11 years when they beat Ireland last month but their record in final matches isn’t too flash either, which is something they will want to put to bed today.

“I don’t think it’s to do with the mind wandering,” added Hines.

“Last year Ireland did a really good job on us. We had a six-day turnaround, they kept the ball for the first ten minutes of play, we got it back – and gave it right back to them. That doesn’t help.

“It took us a half to figure out how to play. The year before, the Ireland game, they needed a bonus point and we just didn’t play very well, did we?

“It’s a different team. We’re physically and mentally 
in a better place to deal with 
a match like we’ll have 
tomorrow.”