Kirwan's future tied to battle at bottom

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The Independent Online

Scotland completed their preparations for this Six Nations' battle of the winless wonders at a five-star golfing resort a few miles outside Rome, so in conversation the words "wood" and "spoon" were permissible in a certain context.

As far as the dispute at the bottom of the table goes, it is believed that the job of the Italy coach, John Kirwan, is at stake if his side fails to win, but the Scots are no happier to be contemplating the possibility of a third defeat out of three, with France and Ireland yet to come.

Neither Kirwan nor his Scotland counterpart, Matt Williams, is able to field their optimal combination.

The Italy full-back, Andrea Masi, aggravated a hamstring injury in training on Thursday, and has postponed his comeback. Kirwan had already dropped Rima Wakarua to the substitutes' bench, in favour of the South African-born Roland de Marigny at fly-half. De Marigny may now be required to call more of the shots than anticipated, with Masi's replacement at No 15, Gonzalo Canale, less capable of switching roles to suit the game plan. Canale's original place on the right wing is filled by Nicola Mazzucato, while Mirco Bergamasco also does bench duty.

The captain Andrea de Rossi yesterday rated the contest "50-50", with perhaps a percentage point swing Italy's way by virtue of home advantage.

Scotland, who famously lost here in 2000, have been disrupted up front by injuries to the loosehead prop Tom Smith and Cameron Mather. The missing pair's deputies - Allan Jacobsen and Allister Hogg - will, according to forwards coach Todd Blackadder, face a hugely physical test. "It'll be a rough day at the office for them," said Blackadder. "The Italians don't play with any fear, or with what we consider to be a lot of structure. It's no secret their coach is under pressure, and their team will feel that too, and play with a lot of heart."

Williams's new systems earned Scotland some promising field positions in the 35-13 loss to England at Murrayfield. In keeping faith with the same back division, the coach said: "We're very much in a development phase with a young team, and you can't just throw young guys in for 10 days or two weeks. The back line created space against England, which was very positive."