Rome wasn't build in a day but Italy match is where I want Scotland to turn it on

Scotland have shown their best rugby in fits and starts – now for a complete performance

Both Scotland and Italy have reason to think that the gods of rugby frowned on them in their matches against France last month. Scotland were denied a last-minute winning try when the match referee and the TMO conducted a long and confusing conversation before giving it the thumbs down. Then, a fortnight ago, Italy were denied victory when the ball fell of the kicking tee, was hastily replaced and fly-half Paolo Garbisi hit the top of the post, and the game ended in a draw,

Setting aside these disappointments, both teams have played some fine rugby this spring. Italy now look like a very talented team that hasn’t yet acquired the habit of winning. While admiring their approach and their skill, I would prefer them to make that breakthrough in Cardiff next week rather than Rome on Saturday – and indeed think this is quite the likely outcome.

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Scotland are in the position of having beaten Wales after a nasty hiccup, beaten France whatever the score-book says, and beaten England quite comfortably, without ever having played quite as well as they seem capable of playing. With a visit to Dublin looming next week, Saturday is surely a day to do just that.

Scotland claimed the Calcutta Cup last time out when they defeated England.Scotland claimed the Calcutta Cup last time out when they defeated England.
Scotland claimed the Calcutta Cup last time out when they defeated England.

Scotland have made three changes – and only one in Cam Redpath coming in at 12 being being on account of injury. We’ll doubtless miss Sione Tuipulotu, who has been a key figure, but Redpath – whose own Test career was stalled by injury – would have been a first-choice 12 for most of the last 25 years.

Gregor Townsend has explained that scrum-half Ben White played for his club Toulon last week-end and has scarcely missed a match this year. One assumes that resting him is done with an eye to Dublin next week, but George Horne has, I assume, been itching for a Six Nations start, having so often played second fiddle to White and Ali Price. He is a fast and wonderfully talented player whose judgement which used to be questionable seems to me much more assured now. The change at flanker, Andy Christie for Jamie Ritchie, may be a horses-for-courses one, though a storming performance might see Christie keeping his place next week.

Italy have engaging runners, a spirit of adventure and are eager to run the ball from anywhere – too eager, a stern coach might say. Their forwards are efficient without being as formidable in the set scrum as some Italian packs of the past, and their line-out has scarcely been secure. I would suppose Finn Russell and Horne will try in pin them back and force them, to play out of defence. On the other hand, Finn plays what is in front of him and decisions may depart from any plan.

Italy’s match with France was odd. France had so much possession and control of territory in the first half, being repeatedly deep in the Italian 22 that their failure to score tries was remarkable. Time and again they ignored space and drove back into the heavy traffic. Probably they felt they were so close to scoring again and again, that next time they must succeed. Well, one has too often seen Scotland play as unthinkingly when close to the line, forgetting that where there is space, there is no immediate obstacle .But to quote, in translation, an old Roman poet: “Whom a god wishes to destroy he first makes mad.” The name of that rugby madness is “white line fever”, and it is painful to watch or, I suppose, for its victims to remember.

Paolo Garbisi suffered late heartache with his penalty miss when Italy drew with France.Paolo Garbisi suffered late heartache with his penalty miss when Italy drew with France.
Paolo Garbisi suffered late heartache with his penalty miss when Italy drew with France.

Still, this should be an entertaining match in Rome. We have slipped up there before, notably in Italy’s first-ever Six Nations match on a day when we went there as winners of the last-ever Five Nations only to be kicked to defeat by the fly-half Diego Dominguez. How well I remember returning to a favourite bar in the Piazza Campo di Fiori and the charming waitress dancing about in joy singing “but you were the champions”.

Well, this year’s all-but-already-crowned champions, Ireland, are at Twickenham just after the match in Rome. It would be amusing if England were to win. They might just do so, improbable as it seems, if they forget any notions of playing an expansive game, and pretend that they are South Africa: kick, kick and kick again and between kicks stuff the ball up some forward’s jersey. This is no day for adventure from Steve Borthwick’s men.