Six Nations: Scotland hope for firm pitch in Italy

THE appalling state of the parasite-infested Murrayfield pitch has been well documented and heavily criticised and, yesterday, Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw admitted playing away from home could suit the team more.

Greig Laidlaw thinks Scotland can do better away from home on a good pitch. Picture: Greg Macvean

As Scotland players picked over the bones of Saturday’s dismal, humiliating and universally panned 20-0 Calcutta Cup shut-out, Laidlaw took comfort from the fact the next match in another beleaguered Six Nations campaign should at least take place on a surface worthy of the stage.

“Hopefully in Rome there will be a nice, faster track and a firmer pitch than Saturday,” said the scrum-half of next weekend’s potential wooden spoon decider in the Eternal City. “Italy will be a tough game. They’ll be targetting us, which is fine, if that is what they want to do. Their forwards are their main threat, always have been and I’m sure always will be.

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“So up front we need to secure the ball and, if we can do that, then I believe we have the backs to cause teams problems.”

While the Scotland skipper, understandably, was keen to look forward rather than back, he did acknowledge again that the squad has been shaken by the woeful performance at home to England.

“There’s nobody more disappointed than myself, the boys and the management,” said Laidlaw. “We are extremely disappointed with the way it went. We never got going, never got into the game. But we need to look forward now. We’ve got three matches left and they are now massive games.

“We never helped ourselves on Saturday, gave away too much possession and the boys fell off a few tackles and, credit to England, they’re a good, powerful side and they showed that.

“Against Italy we need to play more with our heads up and focus on what’s in front of us.”

David Denton, the No 8 who was controversially taken off early in the second half after being one of the few Scotland players to try and take the game to England, accepted the start to the championship has been unacceptable.

“It has been a tough couple of weeks for us losing convincingly to Ireland and England,” reflected the Zimbabwe-born forward. “But especially against England when we were never really in it and didn’t put up a significant challenge.

“We never played any rugby, spent massive parts of the game defending and you’re never going to be in a match if you never have the ball. In Italy we need to control the tackle area much better.”

Meanwhile, France prop Rabah Slimani and Italy’s Michele Rizzo have each been handed a two-week ban for head-butting each other in Sunday’s Six Nations clash in Paris. Rizzi will miss Italy’s clash with Scotland on 22 February.

Neither player contested their red cards in the closing stages of France’s 30-10 victory at a disciplinary committee in London. Both Slimani and Rizzo were handed four-week punishments, but good previous discipline and mitigation then halved the suspensions. Rizzo sits out two matches, leaving him free to play again on 3 March. Stade Francais prop Slimani’s ban starts now, ruling him out of club action this weekend. He can play again from 24 February so will miss France’s trip to Cardiff to face Wales on Friday, 21 February.