Six Nations: Italy v Scotland: sell-out highlights Azzurri’s high hopes

Skipper Michele Lamaro and defence coach Marius Goosen feeling positive about team's prospects of first championship win in Rome since 2013

Italy captain Michele Lamaro says Italy need to prove that they can produce strong back-to-back performances. Image: © Craig Watson -
Italy captain Michele Lamaro says Italy need to prove that they can produce strong back-to-back performances. Image: © Craig Watson -

THE fact that the Stadio Olimpico is a 70,000 sell-out for Saturday’s Six Nations clash between Italy and Scotland – the first time for a rugby match since the same to sides met in 2016 – gives an indication of the sense of optimism surrounding the Azzurri at the moment following their narrow home loss to England in round one of this championship and their agonising draw against France in Lille last time out (when a last-minute Paolo Garbisi penalty would have secured an historic win if it had been on target).

Scotland are currently second in the table behind all-conquering Ireland, with two wins and an agonising home defeat to France, but Gregor Townsend‘s side have not quite managed to find their groove for close to an 80-minute performance yet, and Italy clearly feel that this weekend presents an opportunity to break their 11-year losing streak in home Six Nations matches.

“We know that if we play to our best level, we can compete in this game,” said Italian skipper Michele Lamaro during this [Friday] afternoon’s eve of match press conference. “We need to be ready to take advantage of their mistakes, and to take advantage of what we create ourselves.

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Six Nations round four: Italy v Scotland live blog …

Italy v Scotland: three changes to visitors’ starting line-up

“We’ve known for a long time that Scotland are one of the best teams in the world, and in this Six Nations they’ve given yet more proof of this,” he continued. “They are a team who play an attractive brand of rugby that is difficult to defend. We’ll need to be very precise in our work, both to limit their options in attack and to try to put pressure on them ourselves.

“We know that striking that balance will be hard, but we need to stay together and try to put them under pressure.

“We’ve had an excellent week of training, in which we have been putting ourselves under real pressure and trying to improve those small details that can make the difference. We now need to put on the pitch everything that we have been working on.

Lamaro added:  “We managed to draw in France, but the previous week we had been on the floor after losing 36-0 to Ireland. [The perception is that] one week we are heroes, the next we are a word that it’s probably better I don’t say.

“Those perceptions do not reflect reality. There are always going to be highs and lows in a team’s journey, but I believe we are heading in the right direction. We are growing little by little and we certainly have more chance of winning a game now than was the case two years ago or even last year.

“But we need to remember that before the game against Wales last year, we were having more or less the same conversation. And then in the game, we saw that there were still many things that we needed to improve.

“It’s not something that happens overnight – we need to grow slowly and never get carried away, because every time we have got carried away and believed ourselves to be on the verge of taking that next step forward, we’ve always found ourselves with our face on the floor.

“If we want to be competitive and cause difficulties for other teams, we need to fight with everything that is in us and put the best version of ourselves on the field.

“That’s not always easy, because being at 100 per cent in every game is something that probably no athlete can ever achieve.

“But it’s when you get to a stage where you being at 95 per cent is enough to beat other teams: that’s when you start to achieve important results.

“We’re getting there. We’re heading in the right direction.”



Meanwhile, Italy’ defence coach, Marius Goosen, insisted that his team have a plan in place to neutralise the threat of Scotland playmaker Finn Russell, but was tight-lipped about what that might involve.

“Every team has someone who can make the difference and Finn is certainly that for Scotland,” said Goosen. “I’m not going to tell you what we have prepared to stop him, but there is a specific plan to create pressure, because we know just how dangerous he can be.

“But as we have seen in this Six Nations, Scotland have other players who are dangerous too, and we can’t be guilty of not keeping an eye on them as well,” the South African added, before reflecting on the Scottish playmaker’s growth as an individual and a player since moving away from Glasgow Warriors, initially to Racing 92 in 2018 and then to Bath at the start of this season.

“When you get taken out of your comfort zone like that, you have to learn new things, a new way of playing and get used to having new players around you.

“That all makes you grow. I think playing abroad has also helped Finn’s evolution as a leader. We know the difficulties he had a few years ago, but I think they have helped him too, perhaps freeing him up mentally and allowing him to do what he wanted to do.”


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Six Nations round four: Italy v Scotland live blog …

About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.