All roads lead to Edinburgh for Jacques Brunel’s Italy as they depart Rome on Thursday for the first of three scheduled matches against the Scots this year, arriving in the Scottish capital via London for their must-win contest with Vern Cotter’s side, which has impressed but failed to deliver a win from the opening two rounds.
Italy have much more to lose on Saturday, because if the Azzurri do not win, and Georgia defeat Spain in Madrid, they will slip further down the World Rugby rankings.
The same can be said to a lesser extent for the Azzurri after two bittersweet matches against Ireland and England, when they showed that they are capable of scoring tries and putting opponents under pressure, but a lack of composure and consistency in the execution has proved costly in both defeats to the championship’s front runners.
Italy have much more to lose on Saturday than a single game of rugby, because if the Azzurri do not win, and Georgia defeat Spain in Madrid, they will slip further down the World Rugby rankings to 15th.
So, what should be the team that Brunel will choose for wooden-spoon decider at BT Murrayfield?
As the pack has always been one of the strengths of the Italian national team, changes will be kept to a minimum and determined by injuries to key personnel.
Veteran tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni’s dog incident has seen him ruled out after requiring 14 stitches to his nose.
Brunel has called up Lorenzo Cittadini from Wasps, and he should go straight into the starting XV to pack down alongside Albetro de Marchi and Leonardo Ghiraldini, who should easily retain they places.
As for the second row, experienced Zebre lock Marco Bortolami is a doubt due to a problem to his right leg, with Benetton Treviso captain Antonio Pavanello called up as cover, but Newcastle Falcons’ Joshua Furno and Ayrshire-born George Biagi should occupy the engine room.
In the back row, captain and talisman Sergio Parisse is a certainty to continue at number eight, and there could be place for Marco Barbini, Treviso’s “baby lion” who played a great part in the 40-27 rout of Cardiff Blues on Friday, and the Glasgow-bound Simone Favaro.
Mauro Bergamasco, however, is likely to start at blindside, considering his good performance against England at Twickenham and his considerable experience.
While the forwards are easy enough to predict, the backs make for less than happy reading as injuries continue to blight Italy’s campaign.
Thank you very much for your kind messages, much appreciated them all. I got a nasty deep cut on my calf, I'll be back soon.
— andrea masi (@andrea_masi) February 21, 2015
Versatile back Andrea Masi, who played in the second half in Wasps’ 23-23 draw with Newcastle Falcons, left the pitch on a stretcher and has been ruled out, leaving a gate – not just a door – wide open to allow Brunel to move Zebre’s New Zealand-born versatile back Kelly Haimona to centre.
Italy must face this game with the same willing shown in their last two outings in this year’s campaign, and learn from their mistakes.
Haimona has so far not repeated his heroics from the November internationals in his two outings in the Six Nations, but has looked more potent when moved into the midfield, and his physicality and versatility must be enough to see him moved to centre alongside Luca Morisi, who impressed as he scored two tries at Twickenham.
Enrico Bacchin is another good option, but the Treviso centre will be very likely among the replacements after being called up at the weekend in place of Masi.
Zebre duo Leonardo Sarto and Giovambattista Venditti should start on the wings, with Sale Sharks’ Luke McLean at full-back might well be the best back three Italy can field, while Vicenza-born former Scotland U20 international Tommaso Allan could make a first senior appearance at BT Murrayfield as the Azzurri‘s outside-half.
It will not be easy for Italy to leave Edinburgh with a win.
So far, their only away win in the Six Nations came at BT Murrayfield in 2007 on a wonderful day for Italian rugby as Pierre Berbizier’s Italy ran in three tries in the opening 15 minutes on their way to a 37-17 win over Frank Hadden’s Scotland.
Despite a couple of late penalties for Scotland from Chris Paterson, the game was already over before scrum-half Alessandro Troncon added a fourth try five minutes from time and Andrea Scanavacca added the conversion to take his personal tally to 17 points.
Former Scotland captain Andy Nicol declared it “a sad, sad day for Scottish rugby”, while Gregor Townsend, another former Scotland international and current head coach at Glasgow Warriors, praised the Italians for in the manner in which they won.
“Italy played some intelligent rugby, they absorbed some pressure, made Scotland give away penalties and [Alessandro] Troncon came up with the winning try,” Townsend said.
Italy must face this game with the same willing shown in their last two outings in this year’s campaign, and learn from their mistakes. They could also learn a lot from the spirit of that famous win over Scotland eight years ago.
They will need a bit of luck to return to Rome with a victory, but they have to remain focused on the result for the whole match, rather than switching off after an hour as has happened far too many times in the past.
Forwards (17): Matías Agüero (Zebre Rugby), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Lorenzo Cittadini (London Wasps), Alberto de Marchi (Sale Sharks), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester Tigers), Andrea Manici (Zebre), George Fabio Biagi (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre), Joshua Furno (Newcastle Falcons), Marco Fuser (Benetton Treviso), Antonio Pavanello (Benetton Treviso), Marco Barbini (Benetton Treviso), Mauro Bergamasco (Zebre), Simone Favaro (Benetton Treviso), Francesco Minto (Benetton Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Français, captain), Samuela Vunisa (Zebre).
Backs (14): Edoardo Gori (Benetton Treviso), Guglielmo Palazzani (Zebre), Marcello Violi (Cammi Calvisano), Tommaso Allan (USAP Perpignan), Kelly Haimona (Zebre), Enrico Bacchin (Benetton Treviso), Giulio Bisegni (Zebre), Tommaso Boni (Marchiol Mogliano), Luke Mclean (Sale Sharks), Luca Morisi (Benetton Treviso), Simone Ragusi (Benetton Treviso), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre), Giovambattista Venditti (Zebre), Michele Visentin (Zebre).
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