Scots braced for Sergio Parisse's history men
Italy look for first ever back-to-back wins in a Six Nations campaign against Johnson's side
Saturday 09 February 2013
To the Roman Empire, it was the final frontier, the country that couldn't be conquered. They managed to build a wall between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth but were soon pushed back from Caledonia to the southern side of Hadrian's defensive construction.
In the grand historical scheme of things, it might not be of great significance if the 15 men in the Azzurri battledress manage to emerge victorious from their 80-minute skirmish in the west end of Edinburgh this afternoon. In the context of international rugby union, however, an Italian win would be something of a landmark achievement – possibly a sea-change moment in the game.
Italy have prevailed at Murrayfield before, of course. Back in 2007, they plundered three tries and 21 points in the opening six minutes and when the final whistle confirmed a 37-17 success Alessandro Troncon and his team paraded around the pitch wearing pirate hats.
It remains the only Italian win on the road in the Six Nations. They have not even been able to back up one-off home victories before. Indeed, only in that 2007 competition, when they also put Wales to the sword in Rome, have they won more than one match in a Six Nations campaign.
This afternoon they line up in the Scottish capital with a 2013 win already in the bag, thanks to that stunning 23-18 triumph against the pre-championship favourites France in Rome on the opening weekend. If Sergio Parisse and his side can follow up with a winning blow to a Scotland team beaten 38-18 at Twickenham a week ago, then the prospect of a first ever challenge for the title will suddenly open up for them. Next up will be Wales at home.
"Success for us in the Six Nations is trying to get more than one victory," Parisse, the Azzurri's talismanic No 8 and captain, said. "We have only done that once before. But one day I want to see us compete to win this competition. We have young players coming through and I think in three or four years we will have the motivation to win the championship. But why not this year?
"Five or six years ago we would say, 'Well, we play Scotland at home and maybe we could beat them but there's no way we're going to beat England, France, Ireland or Wales'. From the mental point of view, I think the players know now that we can beat any team."
Having got the better of Scotland in Rome in the final match of last season's championship, the peerless Parisse and his team-mates stand to become the first Italian side to achieve three successive victories in the Six Nations. As for the Scots, they have won just one of their last 11 fixtures in what used to be called the International Championship.
That was a 21-8 victory two years ago against an Italian side unable to back up their first ever win against the French, which they had achieved the weekend before. Scotland, naturally, will be out to make sure that history repeats itself.
"Listen, they can target whichever games they like," replied Scott Johnson, Scotland's interim head coach, when it was put to him that the Italians, under the French coach Jacques Brunel, will see this afternoon's encounter as eminently winnable. "We're targeting them too. It's the way it is. Trust me, we're walking towards the pressure, not away from it. They're a combative side. They'll want to turn up here and be combative. So will we."
Johnson's charges showed encouraging signs in attack in their opening match but considerable room for improvement at the breakdown. They can ill afford to allow Parisse and Co room to manoeuvre in that department today.
"The fact is there's been an honesty call within the camp," Johnson added. "We acknowledged the issues that we had against England. It's up to the boys we've picked now."
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