After two bruising defeats in the opening rounds of the Guinness Six Nations a match against a side who have now lost 23 matches in a row in the competition would seem like a godsend. But this is Scotland, remember.
The last time Italy did win a match in the championship was, inevitably, at BT Murrayfield as the Scots plummeted to a whitewash in Vern Cotter’s first Six Nations.
The Azzurri await in Rome a week on Saturday as Gregor Townsend’s side look to get a first win on the board in this championship but know that a potentially emotion-fuelled cauldron lies in store at the Stadio Olimpico.
Italy entered the expanded Six Nations 20 years ago and got off to a flier as stand-off Diego Dominguez orchestrated a humbling of reigning Five Nations champions Scotland at the old Stadio Flaminio. Since then it has been tough for Italy, although seven wins over the Scots is by far their most successful head-to-head record and they do boast one of the finest players to grace the tournament.
Back row colossus Sergio Parisse was denied his fairytale send-off against the All Blacks at the World Cup as Typhoon Hagibis struck in Japan last year and the final pool match was cancelled but the Toulon forward is primed to return for a curtain call against the Scots.
In sport all losing streaks come to an end at some point. One of the most fabled is tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis who, after finally beating fellow American Jimmy Connors following 16 straight defeats to the Brash Basher of Belleville, strode into the press conference at the 1980 Masters event in New York with champagne bottle in hand and pronounced: “Let that be a lesson to you all, nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”
Who is to say it won’t be a Prosecco-wielding Parisse who does something similar in 12 days’ time.
“We know they’ll come with a lot of passion, especially at home,” said Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie, pictured. “It’s potentially Sergio Parisse’s swansong, and they’re always a passionate group.
“For whatever reason, they always seem to target our game. We know what’s coming, it’s on their home patch and we need to perform away from home.”
The 23-year-old Edinburgh player is relishing the prospect of facing one of the game’s legends, who would win an extraordinary 143rd Test cap if he does turn out against Scotland.
“Italy probably pose us a challenge where we’re going in as favourites which we probably haven’t had the last two weeks. If that is pressure, we need to take it on the chin and perform,” added Ritchie, who was at blindside in the 13-6 loss to England at storm-ravaged BT Murrayfield on his 15th international appearance.
“We prepare just as well for any game. We back ourselves against any opposition. You saw in the last two weeks that if we’d got a few more things right, we’d have won those games.
“We’ll be going in with the same mindset and looking to put those wrongs right.”
Scotland take lessons from the loss of the Calcutta Cup but it will be a much different game in Rome.
“Because it was so wet on Saturday, the game was so slow. It needs to be tight, the opposition are expecting you to do one-pass plays and they are the easiest to defend,” said Ritchie.
“It was one of those games. It kind of came down to who made the fewest mistakes and there was a lot of close-quarters contact. There was a bit of a back row battle, just trying to get the ball back.”
Ritchie remains confident that Scotland can finish the Six Nations on a high with a win in Italy propelling them to three in a row.
“We’re here to win as many games as we can, and looking at the last two weeks, we had opportunities to win both those games. We were very much in them. For us, it’s about finishing those opportunities.”