March 16, 2012
Posted on 03/16/2012
Evading the wooden spoon
This weekend it once again comes down to the wooden spoon decider against Italy. Every year we hope it will be different; that the Italy game that often seems to tail-end the Six Nations will instead be a tournament-deciding game.
And every year in recent memory, it ends up the same. The problem is, everyone else looks at the match against Italy as great chance for a victory. Unfortunately as the gap has narrowed over the years, Italy now look at the match against Scotland much the same way. So whenever we go hunting for some sort of redemption on the turf in Rome having come up narrowly short against the others, it usually coincides with a hungry Italy deciding this is the one game they won't roll over in.
It's no exception today. The first game of Super Saturday will decide who is the least bad, while the later games decide the more important matters of tournament trophies and perhaps a Grand Slam. Scotland and Italy are the second class citizens of the tournament, scrapping for wins and more than token respect, scheduled early to get them out of the way. One day, we swear, we'll be on course for a Grand Slam and reduce the remaining games on Super Saturday to dead rubbers.
But not today.
Today Scotland have to somehow rediscover the form shown in patches against Wales and for nearly a full 80 against France, and get the win that restores a good mood; that revives the fans hope in Andy Robinson, and perhaps Andy Robinson's faith in Andy Robinson.
Rumours abound over Nick De Luca's fitness, so it is entirely possible that he may be replaced last minute by Alex Grove or Matt Scott both of whom have travelled with the squad. Whoever plays at outside centre, they will be crucial in getting the ball around the Italian midfield and away from their effective back row, into the hands of the Scottish backs who will hope to exploit gaps in the Italian defence. Our pacy runners like Stuart Hogg and Max Evans need good fast ball, and often. If Blair can last longer than a half he will be similarly important to this end.
Italy are playing their best back in Masi out of position, but have still looked effective going forward in an unstructured sort of way. Much like Scotland. Realistically even if the sun is shining, we are unlikely to see silky champagne rugby from either side. It is more likely to be a ragged dogfight, but no less compelling.
The area that probably worries Scotland most though is the scrum. We have gone backwards in that area -often literally - and neither Geoff Cross nor Euan Murray seems to make a difference - although replacing Jim Hamilton seems to make us worse too. If Castrogiovanni and company are firing, Italy could look to use Kris Burton's limited rugby palette to play for territory and then extract penalties from us, and we might be powerless to prevent coughing them up.
There is usually one small moral victory Italy can take at the end of every Six Nations, and that is that Sergio Parisse, their one truly world-class player, usually walks into end of tournament XVs (in the same way we get a small fillip from Richie Gray's presence). However this year we aim to take even that from them, as David Denton has had (from a certain perspective) a dream first Six Nations.
That dream has had plenty of scary moments along the way in terms of Scotland's results and the team non-performance against Ireland, but more of the same from Denton and the boys and hopefully we get that happy ending we all crave. And not the Wooden Spoon.