It is déjà vu time for Scotland and for Frank Hadden all over again, as the comic said. Italy. Must-win game. They have been this way twice before.
The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in St Etienne, 29 September 2007. David Bortolussi's 76th-minute penalty whistles wide of the posts. Scotland and their head coach whistle a sigh of relief. An 18-16 victory puts them into the World Cup quarter-finals, meets their tournament target, and keeps Hadden in a job.
The Stadio Flaminio in Rome, 15 March 2008, the Ides of March. Is that a dagger I see before me? No, it's a wooden spoon. Scotland avoid it by a points differential of two, but Andrea Marcato's last-minute drop goal clinches a 23-20 win for Italy. Set a minimum goal of two Six Nations wins per season by the Scottish Rugby Union, Hadden finishes with just the one. The fact that it is against England helps his cause. He loses his two assistants, Alan Tait and George Graham, but manages to hold on to his job.
And so to this afternoon's engagement at Murrayfield. Scotland turn up with no wins out of two in the 2009 Six Nations Championship after rolling over against Wales in their opening game, a 26-13 home defeat, and then losing 22-13 to the French in Paris with a much-improved display that might have been a winning one had the forward pass rule not been waived for Fulgence Ouedraogo's try. With the in-form Irish to come at Murrayfield in a fortnight, followed by the English at Twickenham, the Scots and their chief coach need a victory today if they are to have any realistic hope of hitting the SRU's two-win stipulation.
Hadden would be unlikely to get off the hook with one Six Nations win or less for a second time. Gordon McKie, the SRU's chief executive, wants a settled coaching team ahead of the 2011 World Cup and is understood to have set the 2009 championship as the cut-off point for any change at the top. All of which leaves Hadden little margin for error this afternoon. As Gavin Hastings put it in midweek: "I think it would be very difficult for him to stay on as head coach if they don't win on Saturday."
Back in 2006, in Hadden's first season in charge of the national side, the former Edinburgh coach guided Scotland to three wins in the Six Nations but he has since secured just two wins in 12 championship matches. "The pressure is always on," the Dundonian acknowledged as he prepared his side to face Nick Mallett's off-colour Azzurri. "You are measured by results. You accept that from day one. That is just the way it is. It happens in football so why should rugby be any different?
"That is not something I concern myself about. You have to keep your focus. If you get involved in a sideshow you lose your focus. We are determined to play in a way to get the crowd on their feet against Italy. The players need to understand how important it is to win for their country."
They might also desist from bearing the kind of gifts they gave Italy on their last visit to Murrayfield. With a charged-down kick and two gimmie intercepts, Scotland conceded three converted tries, 21 points, in the opening six slapstick minutes of that 37-17 defeat two years ago. The Italians might not have Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half to return the compliment today but they also have no Alessandro Troncon orchestrating operations in the number nine shirt, as they did in 2007. Even without the elder Bergamasco brother as a square peg in the pivot's hole, as he had been against England at Twickenham, Italy were ill-disciplined and disappointingly flat in their 38-9 defeat against Ireland a fortnight ago, leaving the pitch to boos at the Stadio Flaminio.
They will need to up their game significantly this afternoon if they are to make the pressure tell on the Scots, who have Euan Murray back as the cornerstone of their pack, at tighthead prop, and who have found a cutting edge in their three-quarter line in the shape of the Evans brothers. The odds are on Hadden living to fight another day in the Six Nations.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), T Evans (Glasgow); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J White (Sale), A Kellock (Glasgow), A Strokosch (Gloucester), J Barclay (Glasgow), S Taylor (Stade Francais). Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), A Dickinson (Gloucester), K Brown (Glasgow), S Gray (Northampton), C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Edinburgh), N de Luca (Edinburgh).
Italy: A Marcato (Treviso); Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), G Garcia (Calvisano), M Pratichetti (Calvisano); L McLean (Calvisano), P Griffen (Calvisano); S Perugini (Toulouse), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Toulon), M Bortolami (Gloucester), A Zanni (Calvisano), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: F Sbaraglini (Treviso), C Nieto (Gloucester), C del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), P Canavosio (Viadana), A Bacchetti (Rovigo), G Rubini (Overmach Parma).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content