Reed ready for Italian challenge

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The Independent Online
Scotland do not intend becoming the fall guys in Italy's attempt to break into the Five Nations' Championship. Although beaten 54-21 by England three weeks ago, the Italians troubled Wales and Australia earlier this season and they see today's game with the Scots at Murrayfield and the 4 January encounter with Ireland in Dublin as major opportunities to achieve a final breakthrough into Europe's top rugby club.

Scottish fans worried by the prospect of defeat will not be encouraged by the low-key approach of their coach, Richie Dixon, to the game. "I think there will be two reasonably matched sides out there," he said. "And, as with all internationals, it will be decided by whoever wants to win the most. Italy are here to win as part of their bid to get into the Five Nations, and it is up to us to set the challenge for them."

In addition to avoiding embarrassment, there will be no shortage of incentive for several of the Scottish players hoping to cement their international places for the opening Five Nations encounter, against Wales on 18 January. By way of contrast there will be the 23-year-old Northampton prop Matt Stewart making his debut, while the veteran centre Scott Hastings, 11 years Stewart's senior, returns for his 63rd cap.

There is also a new beginning for the former Lions lock Andy Reed, who collected the last of his 10 Scottish caps against South Africa in November I994. The 6ft 7in Cornishman, who switched from Bath to Wasps this season, will hope to follow in the footsteps of his club-mate Chris Sheasby, who burst on to the international scene for England after a close-season move to Wasps.

Reed, 27, has recovered from a career-threatening back problem that kept him out of the game for 14 months. "There was a time when I thought I would not play at any level again, never mind at international level," he said. "But, once I started again, I wanted to play at the highest standard. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but I will give it my best shot."

Dixon, unhappy with the forwards' display in the 29-19 defeat by Australia last month, dropped Doddie Weir to bring Reed in, and he realises the spotlight will be on him today. "For the first time, I'm feeling some pressure but I like to think I can thrive on it," Reed said. "Italy are by no means mugs."

Scotland, who will be led for the second time by Gregor Townsend who will be playing inside centre for the first time at international level, will be especially wary of Alessandro Troncon, Italy's livewire scrum- half and their threequarter Paolo Vaccari, who both scored tries for Italy against England.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Townsend (Northampton, capt), K Logan (Stirling C); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling C), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), A Reed (Wasps), M Wallace (GHK), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: D Stark (Melrose), R Eriksson (London Scottish), D Patterson (Heriot's FP), G Weir (Newcastle), B Stewart (Edinburgh Academicals), G Ellis (Currie).

ITALY: J Pertile; N Mazzucato, P Vaccari, I Francescato, Marcello Cuttitta; D Dominquez, A Troncon; Massimo Cuttitta, C Orlandi, A Castellani, W Cristofoletto, G Croci, M Giovanelli (capt), O Arancio, A Sgorlon. Replacements: A Moscardi, V Golfetti, C Checchinato, G Guidi, F Mazzariol, L Manteri.

Referee: D Gillet (Fr).