Italy will try to slow Scotland down says Michele Campagnaro

Michele Campagnaro is sitting in the Italian team hotel in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket looking north over the imposing mass of Edinburgh castle perched atop its rock, an impetentrable fortress. He has a shock of long, blond hair, penetrating green eyes and almost perfect English honed during his time with Exeter Chiefs, which has only just ended.

Michele Campagnaro of Italy. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

He doesn’t offer any reasons for his mid-season switch to Wasps although he concedes that the club is “in transition”. Despite injuries restricting his Exeter appearances to 27, in which time he scored nine tries, he still became a firm favourite of the fans.

It turns out that Exeter’s latest big-money signing means that the West Country club had to jettison some excess baggage and Campagnaro was shown the door. The Chiefs’ marquee signing is, of course, Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and the pair are sure to bump into each other this afternoon when the Italian has one more reason to stick it to the Scot.

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Wasps coach Dai Young called the Italian a “quality player” and Campagnaro is one of the few Italian backs who would get into almost every other squad in the competition in his preferred position of outside centre. However, he starts on the wing tomorrow, for the first time at Test level.

“Yes, it’s the first time for me on the wing with Italy,” he confirms. “I haven’t played that much in this role, as I usually play centre. The way I play it doesn’t really change that much for me, obviously it’s a bit different but I will try and get involved as much as possible in the midfield too.

“For me it’s also a matter of instinct, to go and play in the midfield and try to get my hands on the ball. We don’t really play with the wings at the back [in defence], they are always in the [defensive] line so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

The task facing the Italians this afternoon looks every bit as daunting as that south side of the castle. They have not won a Six Nations match since 2015, against Scotland at Murrayfield, and they are facing a side ranked eight places above them in the World Rugby’s pecking order.

If Scotland look almost as secure as the castle does, and the bookies have the home team priced at 25-1 on, perhaps upon closer inspection there are a few cracks in the edifice of both institutions that would offer a foreign invader some slim chance of success.

“We know that scrum and maul for us are big things but this is not everything we’ve got,” says the winger, hoping to get his hands on the ball.

“We do want to play more, we do want to attack with the backs and we do want to score tries out wide so I think we’re also improving on this as well, although there’s still a lot of work to be done. I expect a quick game on Saturday, especially from them [Scotland]. They will put a lot of pace on set-pieces and they will probably try and keep the ball on the field and in play. Obviously we have to match their pace, keep the momentum going and maybe try and slow down the ball a little bit.

“If our defence is good and we manage to put pressure on them, I think like every team when you try to overplay you concede some turnovers and if you are prepared to put more pressure on them, it can be a positive thing for us but, as I said, we need to be strong in defence first.

“We did concede a lot of tries but probably because we didn’t have the ball long enough! When you give the ball to Scotland for a long time, at some point they’re going to score, because you cannot defend for 80 minutes. And when we are in possession, we need to keep the ball for longer and score some points.”

Italy have a long list of things on their “to do” list this afternoon and tightening up their “D” is just one of them. They scored more tries than Scotland managed in the last Six Nations but conceded almost exactly twice as many.

But it is worth reminding ourselves that, last season in Rome, the Azzurri were much the better team for large chunks of the match as Scotland squeezed home 29-27.

Is there a danger that the visitors spend so much time attempting to stop Scotland doing their stuff that they forget to showcase what they are capable of when they get their hands on the ball?

“Of course we have to play our game,” says Campagnaro. “We need to bring our game to them [Scotland]. It’s not like we just react. We know that, when they play at home, especially, they are very good but we will see what happens.”

It isn’t the most rousing call to arms ever issued, although that may all be part of Italy’s low-key approach to this game, at least in public.