Rugby: Scrummage guru has Mass appeal in the Scots ranks

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SCOTLAND hooker Ross Ford is banking on a tartan rugby pimpernel helping his side get back to winning ways in the RBS Six Nations Championship against Italy at Murrayfield next time out.

The teams meet on Saturday week when Scotland's forwards will be looking to draw on knowledge passed on by scrummaging coach Massimo Cuttitta.

Capped 69 times by Italy, the 42-year-old Cuttitta, pictured below, has been a regular at Edinburgh and Glasgow training sessions since brought in by previous Capital head coach, Lyn Howells, a couple of years ago.

Ford says: "He who pays the piper and all that .. Massimo has to be on our side and he has got a bit of experience which we'll certainly tap into. He's our secret weapon and I have always enjoyed working with Massimo particularly the way he has brought my scrummaging technique on a lot."

Ford, capped 27 times, has missed only one of Scotland's last 11 internationals and, coincidentally, that was against the Italians a year ago.

But he could be about to make up for lost time against the Azzurri amidst reports that at least two of their club sides could enter the Celtic League.

The Irish media are quoting Celtic League chairman John Hussey as being "reasonably confident" that an expansion will be ratified before the end of March following talks in Rome at the weekend also involving Italian Federation President Carlo Dondi.

Ford, from Edinburgh, takes a more-the-merrier approach, saying: "Whatever is going on I'm quite happy about. The Italians have teams in the Heineken Cup and are doing better and better."

Priority, though, is establishing Scottish superiority over the Azzurri and Ford said there is plenty to be taken forward from last weekend's 13-22 defeat by France in Paris when the try count was shared at one apiece. He continued: "We said after the Autumn Tests that we had to maintain the same intensity we showed then but things slipped against Wales. In France, we were a lot closer to recent standards so the aim is to increase if from there. That means keeping hold of the ball and having a real go.

"It is (now) about trying to entertain and win games."

Meanwhile, Hugo Southwell has warned Scotland not to become hung up on containing Italian forward power to the detriment of other priorities.

The full back believes there is a danger of stereotyping the Azzurri to Scotland's cost and, drawing on his 46-cap experiences, says: "Italy have some great players in their backline who feature all over Europe.

"They might have the reputation of being forward orientated because their scrum and particularly the front row is so solid but Masi at Biarritz, Canale at Montferrand and Mirco Bergamasco at Stade Francais are three examples of Italian backs who play week in, week out at the highest level.

"That's why we have to be very wary of giving Italy any mistakes to feed off."

Scotland haven't beaten Italy in the RBS Six Nations since 2006 and Southwell says: "For the past two or three years they have been feeding off our errors and we can't afford to let that continue."

According to Southwell, Scotland improved when going down 13-22 to France last weekend but, even against the tournament basement boys, cannot leave anything to chance.

"Although things were a lot, lot better compared to when we opened against Wales there were still errors that would be capitalised on if repeated against Italy.

"What it comes down to is improving our decision making under pressure. We go on about it a lot but when you make line-breaks you then have a split second to decide whether to pass or not.

"We stuck in against France physically and refused to be out-muscled but there is still scope for improvement.

"One thing which should be in our favour is that for the third game running we expect to face opponents who operate a rush defence. It nearly caught Ireland out last weekend when they tried to go around Italy out wide and became isolated before getting smashed. Later, Ireland changed back to the Munster-style game played closer to the fringes of the rucks that they know best and that way things started to open up for them in an eventual (38-9) win," said Southwell.

"There's no way we can start out throwing the ball around; it will be a case of getting into Italy up front then grinding for a win."