SCRUM coach Massimo Cuttitta insisted the Scotland coaches deserved the criticism that came their way after the Calcutta Cup, but is confident that supporters will see a different forwards display in Italy this weekend.
He defended the performance of the Scottish scrum in the 20-0 defeat to England, and stated that Scotland’s bid to right the ship in Rome will hinge on the set-piece and players’ belief, but accepted that criticism of the team’s overall display and the coaches was right.
“Definitely,” he said. “This is a role where you have to take it. You can’t get upset. You take criticism. That is one way to grow as a coach.
“There were positives. They [England] were in our 22 20 times and we defended them well 18 of those times, so there has to be a positive in that. It’s not realistic to think that the boys didn’t defend well.
“But criticism is part of our job and we need to take it on the chin. My duty is to try and do my best and that’s important for me, but I take the criticism because that’s part of the job. I’ll try to rectify it in my department, like all the other coaches will do.”
Cuttitta has been with Scotland since 2010 and there is little doubt that his coaching has had a positive impact on the Scottish scrum from days when it was regularly beaten. But the Italians’ set-piece is considered stronger than England’s and, as a former Italy prop and captain, Cuttitta knows how the scrum sets their mental and physical standard. Defuse that and Scotland are halfway there says the Italian.
“I feel competitive and it’s very important for me to win against my home country,” he said. “I played for Italy, won 69 caps, and captained Italy, but it’s a different situation now.
“We played reasonably well [in the scrum] against England but we can get a lot better than that. I am very demanding. I want my scrum to go forward every time but, according to our stats, we had 87 percent quality ball from our scrums and we put a bit of pressure on them.
“Italy put a lot of pressure in there. The Italian mentality is that ‘we will take you on in the first few scrums of the game, keep the ball in, go for double-shoves and try to crack you mentally’. Now, what happens with Italy is that if you do the same to them you will take them on.
“It’s going to be difficult because they have one of the best set-pieces in the world, but we’ve done it in the past and there’s no reason why we can’t do it again. We have won games with our scrum. It’s all about belief.
“They will take us on straight away and try to weaken us there, and if they get the first few scrums and push us backwards then we’re going to struggle mentally. But on the other hand, because I know them well, if you do that to them they’ll start asking questions.
“Our boys are well prepared. They know who they’re playing against, what to expect from them, what to do against this opposition. We really study the angles of how they push and what they do. We know, for example, that Castro [Martin Castrogiovanni] is going to be pushing in at an angle and we know what we have to do.”
The lineout was the real disaster area in the opening games with Ireland and England, a part of the forwards display that unhinged Scotland’s entire performance. Hooker Ross Ford has come in for criticism for the way balls have fallen into opposition hands with monotonous regularity, and Cuttitta was quick to defend Ford in the other key area of a hooker’s brief – hooking.
The art has returned to the game this season with a new demand for scrum-halves to put the ball into the scrum straight, as opposed to behind the front row to the locks, as became common over the past decade. So hooking is new to Ford, and Cuttitta confirmed that the coaches have tried to play to his literal strength, in scrummaging, rather than asking him to hook.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the hooker position now because the only way to exert pressure is through the bottom, so scrums go lower, and the lower you go the more pressure there is on the hooker.
“It’s not easy to strike a ball when you’re down that low. Last year the bigger guys were at an advantage with the engage, where the bigger you were the more physical you were and you had the momentum and went forward. Now we’re going back to the smaller guys who are a little bit more skilful in striking the ball. There are two ways of doing it: either striking or sinking through the bottom and walking over the ball. It depends on who’s playing and you adapt to what you’ve got there.
“We play Ross to his potential. He’s better at pushing through the bottom.
“It’s not just Fordy’s fault when he doesn’t get the ball. It’s a collective thing because as soon as either hooker lifts their foot up [to strike] they lift the scrum and the opposition pushes you backwards. That’s why you see the ball sitting stuck there. It’s about who reacts first [to strike] because they want to get that ball. They won’t get it because the pressure is exerted [when they lift their foot] to push them backwards.”
Games within games. For Cuttitta and the Scotland coaching team the game remains simple – if Scotland’s pack steps up in the scrum and lineout they will win.
“How many times have we actually struggled against Italy?” asked Cuttitta, defending his scrum. “Yes, last summer [on South Africa tour] until the last ten minutes when we fixed it and won the game, but what about last year [Six Nations] when we played them and won?
“Or when we shunted Ireland back last year? This is where you win the game. If we can match their forwards, or better their forwards, we can win this game.
“Latin people are fiery people, but that fire can come against you. People over here are more calm but maybe when you’re more calm you focus more on your job and get things right. Sometimes Italy are so emotional that if you put them under pressure they crack.
“Italy have always been the same: competitive. They thought they were going to struggle in this Six Nations and it’s not turned out like that. They’re looking good. But you also have to understand who is playing against them and whether they have been underestimating them, because that can make them look better. There is that component I think.”
He added: “We have three games to play still. The last time we played in Italy it was the last game and was a bit ‘do or die’, but we can still win and I can’t see why we shouldn’t, and not just this game.
“If we keep working the way we’re working results will come out. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to get the work done.”
After the first two performances this year, time is not on Scotland’s side.
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