MASSIMO Cuttitta knows what it is like to win for Italy against Scotland – he did it in his country’s first ever Six Nations match back in 2000 during his last season as an international prop. His job this week, as the Scots’ scrummaging coach, is to ensure that the current generation of Italian players do not get to enjoy the same experience at BT Murrayfield.
Although Italy, like Scotland, have experienced some lean times in the championship over the past 15 years, Cuttitta believes there are similarities between the current team and the one he played in then. Indeed, he is sure that Italian rugby has progressed steadily over that time, and pointed out that its resources in terms of both personnel and finance are significantly superior to Scotland’s.
“That was probably the icing on the cake for me, because I had worked hard to get Italy to the Six Nations,” he said of that match in 2000, which Scotland began as Five Nations champions and ended on the wrong side of a 34-20 result. “And I was one of the fortunate few to get to that stage – there were about three or four of us. Italy right now have got some experienced leaders, too. They’ve definitely got the money to develop: the Italian union is the second richest after soccer in Italy.
“Rugby is actually growing as a sport in Italy. Everybody wants to go see it, everybody is really interested in it. Although they don’t know that much about it, they like the sport, like the atmosphere and the after-game.
“And there are a lot of new players, a lot of kids joining up. They have probably ten times the number of players we have in Scotland. They’ve got 30 academies with teams. So I think they spend their money on that.
“Just about every little town in Italy has a team. My little town, Anzio, has two local teams. Rugby is very much a social sport in Italy. People are really interested in going to watch, although they don’t know the rules – they like the atmosphere and they like rugby players.”
One of the most popular players in the current Italian squad, Martin Castrogiovanni, is out for Saturday after being bitten by a dog. Cuttitta warned that, while the veteran prop’s experience would be missed, the man brought in to cover for him should not be underestimated.
“Castro is charismatic: he’s a big loss. But I think Lorenzo Cittadini is covering in the scrums really well. He’s been doing really well with Wasps, so they’re both good players.
“He’s a youngster coming up and is doing well for Wasps. So it’s a big loss for them – but maybe not as big as it would have been a few years ago.
“From my point of view, Cittadini is doing really well. But Castro has that experience. He’s not as destructive as he used to be – but he’s got real leadership.
“He’s one of the old boys who are taking that group forward. He does well for Italy. He’s more of a loss as a personality. Cittadini is a much quieter boy – he’s a youngster who just knuckles down and works hard.”
Whatever the Italian line-up on the day, Cuttitta is all too well aware that this is the biggest game of the season for his old team. “Italy are dangerous. You can’t underestimate Italy – England underestimated them in the first half and Italy ran in three tries. Not many teams run in three tries against England at Twickenham. I wouldn’t mind if Scotland managed that.
“I think Italy are unpredictable. They can have some good moments of really top rugby. So you can’t underestimate them. I think they’ve got all the means to be well prepared.
“Italy target Scotland as the Six Nations match. We have to target them. This is the game for them; the most important game. The Six Nations for them is playing against Scotland – and trying to beat us.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS