EDINBURGH: Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned his side to expect a fierce Scotland backlash when they try to make it two wins out of two in the Six Nations rugby championship at Murrayfield today.
The Azzurri blew the Championship wide open with their stunning 23-18 victory over pre-tournament favourites France in Rome last weekend.
Scotland-Italy matches, as was the case last season, have often been the tournament’s wooden-spoon decider.
But Italy, who in 2012 defeated the Scots 13-16 in Rome, will arrive in Edinburgh with loftier ambitions.
Their win over France on Sunday would have done little to lift the mood of Scotland supporters still smarting from their side’s 38-18 defeat by England at Twickenham 24 hours earlier.
It may have been Scotland’s first match under Australian interim head coach Scott Johnson but the outcome merely continued a wretched run of results that has seen them lose 13 out of their last 16 Six Nations fixtures.
By contrast French coach Brunel finds himself in the unusual position of having to dampen down expectations after a win over France where traditional Italian forward power was complemented by some incisive back-play, notably from fly-half Luciano Orquera, who made a superb break to set up a try for captain Sergio Parisse.
“When Scotland saw the fixtures list for this season’s tournament they said: this year we have to beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon,” Brunel told www.federugby.it.
“We face a tough challenge, and it’s one that I’ve been trying to put into perspective to the players this week,” added Brunel, who has made just one, injury-enforced change to his side, with experienced centre Gonzalo Canale replacing Alberto Sgarbi.
Many of Scotland’s recent matches have seen them secure plenty of ball, but fail to do much with it.
But against England, they had the reverse problem with Scotland repeatedly overwhelmed at the breakdown and forced to live off scraps of possession.
Nevertheless New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland, who made his Scotland debut at Twickenham, and full-back Stuart Hogg still managed to score a well-taken try each despite the meagre rations.
Scotland’s cause in London was not helped by the early exit of Al Strokosch, the flanker going off with a cheekbone injury that has ruled him out of the Italy match.
His place has been taken by Robert Harley, who will be making only his second Scotland appearance and first since he scored a last-gasp winning try away to Samoa in June.
“Coming on against Samoa was incredible, the best moment of my career so far, but I’ve always had dreams of running out with Scotland at Murrayfield,” said the 22-year-old.
Now Harley hopes to follow the example of boyhood hero Jason White, the former Scotland captain, who remains his model for back-row play.
“Big Jason was the player I watched most when I was a kid, especially the tackles. He would just go out and smash people,” Harley recalled.
“Ask me if I would rather score five tries or produce five tackles where I have smashed somebody and knock the ball out and the answer would probably be the tackles.
“Hopefully, I can make a difference this weekend. That is a big goal for me – to try and get good quick ball for us. I think Italy showed that if you get quick ball then you can beat any team.”
Harley’s words will be music to the ears of Johnson.
“We can dream away about how we’d like to play, but the reality is in the modern game, if you don’t get the contact area right, you can dream all you like, it’s fantasy, fairytales won’t come true,” the Australian insisted after the England match.
If identifying a problem is the vital step in solving it, Scotland are well on their way. But then again, so are Italy. — AFP