Preview: Italy v Scotland

Fri, 21 Feb 2014 06:28
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Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned against a possible backlash from Scotland when his side host the Six Nations strugglers at Rome's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned against a possible backlash from Scotland when his side host the Six Nations strugglers at Rome's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Scotland arrive in the Italian capital still smarting from a 20-0 reverse to arch-enemies England at Murrayfield two weeks ago, a defeat which served only to stoke criticism of under-fire coach Scott Johnson.

With Italy succumbing to a narrow defeat to Wales and then a heavier reverse to France, Saturday's match has been dubbed a wooden spoon decider.

Scotland, who beat Italy 34-10 at Murrayfield last year, will be looking to make amends. After announcing his team, Brunel said Italy are taking nothing for granted.

"Last year we conceded 34 points at Murrayfield, that's something we have to take into consideration," Brunel told reporters on Thursday.

"Recent results haven't been going Scotland's way, but they're one of the teams we seem to have most difficulty with. They have character and always play with determination. They will be tough opponents."

Saturday's clash should be memorable as Italy captain, No.8 Sergio Parisse, and prop Martin Castrogiovanni will both set a new Italian record by claiming their 104th caps.

However it will also be remembered as Allan's first start against the country for whom he played at all previous levels before finally committing to Italy, much to Scotland's displeasure, at the end of last year.

Brunel regularly champions athletic flyhalf Allan, who is gaining valuable senior experience with French Top 14 side Perpignan, as a potential key player for his side at next year's World Cup.

Asked if it would be an emotional game for the Vicenza-born 20-year-old, whose Scottish father and Italian mother met in Italy while both playing the game, Brunel was dismissive.

"I understood from the start of his time with us that he feels truly Italian, even though he has come through the Scottish ranks. For him there's no doubt," he added.

Brunel has made few changes to the side that started against the French at the Stade de France.

Among the three-quarters Tommaso Iannone drops from right wing to the bench in place of Angelo Esposito, who made his debut against Wales, with Allan and Edoardo Gori retaining the halfback positions.

Stade Francais veteran Parisse and Castrogiovanni, who plays for Toulon, will both become Italy's all-time record cap holders with 104 appearancecs each, in the process superceding retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero.

There are only two changes in the scrum with openside flank Mauro Bergamasco replaced by Robert Barbieri after suffering a thigh knock. Alessandro Zanni, meanwhile comes in at blindside in place of Francesco Minto.

Players to watch:

For Italy:
Luke McLean will be a threat from the back and Tommaso Allan will look to control the game with his boot. As ever it will be up to captain Sergio Parisse to lead the way and get over the gainline. Up front tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni will be key at scrum-time and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini will also have a big role to play.

For Scotland: Stuart Hogg will be dangerous on the counter-attack, whilst the strings will be pulled by skipper Greg Laidlaw at scrumhalf. Big lock Richie Gray is back and will have a big role to play in the line-outs and hooker Scott Lawson will have an impact in the tight exchanges.

Head to head: Luke McLean and Stuart Hogg should both provide a spark from fullback if they get the ball in space. Johnnie Beattie will have his work cut out for him up against Sergio Parisse and South African-born lock Quintin Geldenhuys should have a good tussle with Richie Gray.

Recent results:
2013: Scotland won 30-29 in Pretoria
2013: Scotland won 34-10 in Edinburgh
2012: Italy won 13-6 in Rome
2011: Scotland won 23-12 in Edinburgh
2011: Scotland won 21-8 in Edinburgh
2010: Italy won 16-12 in Rome
2009: Scotland won 26-6 in Edinburgh
2008: Italy won 23-20 in Rome

Prediction: This should be a tough forward battle which could be decided by the kickers, we expect Italy to sneak a win by less than five points on home soil.

Teams:

Italy:
15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Moray Low, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 David Denton, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Max Evans.

Date: Saturday, February 22
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Predicted weather: Partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain, high of 16, 15 kph wind
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)

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