High tempo, with style as well as sub­stance, is key to beat­ing Italy

The Herald - Herald Sport - - SIX NATIONS - AL KEL­LOCK

I EX­PECT Scot­land to win to­day. Italy are strong in cer­tain quar­ters, but Scot­land have a bet­ter spread of tal­ent through­out their squad. It will be all about Scot­land dic­tat­ing the tempo, which will pre­vent the Ital­ians from play­ing to their strengths.

The team can­not al­low them­selves to fall into the trap of play­ing too con­ser­va­tively, be­cause that will play into Ital­ian hands and per­haps al­low the game to be­come the kind of scrap that could go ei­ther way. But, at the same time, Scot­land can­not just keep spread­ing the ball wide with­out a lot of di­rec­tion. We should be con­fi­dent of play­ing a good brand of rugby.

A high-tempo game does not nec­es­sar­ily mean go­ing wide-wide. It’s about con­tin­u­ally mov­ing the ball around, pre­vent­ing the op­po­si­tion de­fence from set­tling, and look­ing for holes. Some­times, if enough de­fend­ers get sucked into the break­down, those holes will ap­pear out wide, and it will be up to the likes of Tim Visser and Tommy Sey­mour to ex­ploit them. But they can also oc­cur close in, and if op­por­tu­ni­ties like that oc­cur we can look to backs such as Dun­can Tay­lor to ex­ploit them.

We need to get a lot of go-for­ward from the likes of Tay­lor, who played very well against Wales two weeks ago and re­ally showed his abil­ity with that late try, and from the for­wards too, es­pe­cially Richie and Jonny Gray. And the key to giv­ing them the plat­form to get onto the front foot lies in our front five be­com­ing dom­i­nant.

I said be­fore the Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship be­gan that our front five could match or bet­ter any other front five in the com­pe­ti­tion, and I’ve seen noth­ing in the first two rounds of matches that has changed my mind about that. Italy pride them­selves on their scrum, so if we can get on top of them in that depart­ment it could have a dam­ag­ing ef­fect on their morale. Richie and Jonny ob­vi­ously have an im­por­tant part to play in the set piece, but if we do get on top it will be good to see them car­ry­ing more ball in the loose.

One of the main strengths of the team that Vern Cot­ter has de­vel­oped over the past year is their abil­ity to play fast, at­tack­ing rugby. Against Italy in the pre-World Cup friendly at BT Mur­ray­field, and then against Wales a cou­ple of weeks ago, we saw how much abil­ity they have go­ing for­ward.

That is why main­tain­ing a high tempo will be vi­tal: it will al­low us to play to our strengths, and pre­vent Italy from play­ing to theirs. It’s about mak­ing them un­com­fort­able and rais­ing the tempo above where they’re happy for it to be. And it’s about keep­ing up that high tempo for as long as pos­si­ble – hope­fully right un­til the end of the match.

Hav­ing said that, I have to ad­mit that some­thing else that would come in very use­ful is some sort of stroke of luck. When you’ve lost a few games there can be a ten­dency to think that your luck’s not in, so if Scot­land do get a break early in the game, that could help them be­lieve that this is their day.

It could be a re­ally good kick to the cor­ner from Finn Rus­sell, a for­tu­nate break of the ball, or even a de­ci­sion from the of­fi­cials that goes our way. What­ever it is, if it comes early in the game it could pro­vide the kind of spark that will in­spire Scot­land to have a real be­lief in them­selves.

At the same time, that could also have the ef­fect of si­lenc­ing the home crowd, which will be an im­por­tant as­pect of the match. The Ital­ian crowd can get very pas­sion­ate and give their team some rous­ing sup­port, so si­lenc­ing them will be good.

The other thing Scot­land have to do is pre­vent sub­sti­tutes such as Martin Cas­tro­gio­vanni com­ing on to an ec­static re­cep­tion and hav­ing a big im­pact on the game. I think the Scot­land bench is good enough to do that, and I think it could be an ex­cit­ing day, in par­tic­u­lar, for Rory Suther­land and Mo­ray Low, the two re­place­ment props who have been brought into the squad for this game. Mo­ray has been do­ing well in a suc­cess­ful Ex­eter side, and will be re­ally highly mo­ti­vated to­day, which will be his first op­por­tu­nity for a while to show what he can do at in­ter­na­tional level. He can come on and have a big im­pact.

The backs re­place­ments look well placed to do that too. Peter Horne has the abil­ity to change games, as does Sam Hi­dalgo-Clyne, and Sean La­mont is a great im­pact sub to have.

This is a big game for the whole squad, one that could be a cat­a­lyst. Ev­ery­body sees the abil­ity and po­ten­tial of this group of play­ers. A win against Italy to­day will be im­por­tant in con­text, be­cause it will bring a dis­mal run in the Six Na­tions to an end. But it will also be about es­tab­lish­ing a real con­fi­dence in the style of play that the team is try­ing to de­velop.

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