Last Saturday morning, even before Italy had taken the biscuit in the 2011 Six Nations Championship by beating France in Rome and lifting the Garibaldi Trophy, four of their players could be seen on the back page of La Gazzetta Dello Sport wearing kilts in an advert for Glen Grant whisky. "Spirito Di Squadra," the headline proclaimed.
The question is: can Nick Mallett's men summon enough of the spirit that swept them to a momentous 22-21 victory in the delirious Stadio Flaminio a week ago to avoid being left with the Six Nations booby prize at Murrayfield this afternoon? We shall see, over the course of what promises to be an intriguing wooden-spoon decider.
Scotland, of course, need to win to avoid a whitewash as well as bottom place at the end of a campaign they entered with hope of making an impact, on the back of five wins in six matches. They line up today without their only try scorer from their last three matches, Max Evans having yesterday lost his battle to recover from an ankle problem. The Glasgow player will be replaced on the left wing by the Osprey Nikki Walker.
It is undoubtedly a blow to Andy Robinson's side, who have not crossed the opposition whitewash in their last eight matches at Murrayfield. Evans scored a fine try at Twickenham last Sunday, with a neat chip and catch. "Our medical team have worked tirelessly as ever, but Max is not quite ready for the rigours of a Test match," Robinson, Scotland's head coach, reported. "We wish him a speedy recovery."
Kelly Brown has recovered from the concussion he suffered courtesy of Matt Banahan's shoulder six days ago but the Saracens back rower might still give Robinson another headache. His participation depends on the timing of his pregnant wife's contractions. "She's due pretty much any day," Brown said. "If I get that call I think I'll have to go."
After a pregnant pause on the form front, Scotland delivered a vastly improved performance against England and – with or without Brown, who did a sterling job in the No 8 position at Twickenham – they will need to build on that today if they are to avoid the wooden spoon.
Robinson has urged his side to produce "a hard-nosed complete 80-minute display". "The focus for us this weekend is to do what the Italians did last weekend and get over the line by making sure we score more points than the opposition," he added. "It's important that we put in a performance that is for 80 minutes and not just for 30 or 40."
Having put in an impressive 30-minute performance off the bench at Twickenham, Geoff Cross starts at tight-head prop in the only unenforced change made by Robinson. Mallett has made six alterations, despite his side's stunning victory against the French.
It seems that Italy's head coach is still under pressure from the national federation but this afternoon he returns to a happy hunting ground. Mallett was in charge of the Springboks when they inflicted a record 68-10 defeat on Scotland at Murrayfield in 1997.
The Italians, of course, have prevailed in Edinburgh before. In 2007 they plundered three tries in the opening six minutes and paraded around Murrayfield in pirate hats at the final whistle. It remains their only success on the road in the Six Nations.Reuse content