rugby

Scotland-Italy has different meaning in this Six Nations

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Associated Press
2/7/2013 12:21:28 PM
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EDINBURGH -- Italy is usually preparing itself for a scrap to avoid the wooden spoon by the second round of the Six Nations.

This year could be very different.

After a surprise 23-18 victory over France on Sunday, the Azzurri go looking for a second straight win when they visit Murrayfield to play beleaguered Scotland on Saturday.

They have won only two matches in the same Six Nations tournament once -- in 2007 -- and games against Scotland have recently been reserved for curtain-raisers for the final weekend, typically deciding last place in the standings.

However, Italy could yet finish in the top three, for the first time since joining the competition in 2000, with a win over Scotland and another victory in home games against Wales and Ireland over the final three matchdays.

"The compliments from the world of rugby have given us enthusiasm," Italy flanker Paul Derbyshire said. "But if we take Saturday's match lightly, that would be the biggest mistake we could make."

One person who wasn't surprised by France's downfall in Rome was Scotland coach Scott Johnson.

"It was a great success story. It was wonderful," Johnson said. "The world order in rugby is changing. Professional rugby is right around the world now.

"The minnow countries of yesterday no longer exist, so every test match you get is a competitive test match. This will be no different."

A big underdog against the French, Italy will now have to deal with increased expectations this weekend.

Scotland's last home match was a humiliating loss to Tonga in November that proved to be the final straw for Andy Robinson, who stood down as coach the following day. Johnson took over as interim coach but his first match was also a chastening experience, with the Scots losing 38-18 to old rival England last weekend.

Under pressure almost throughout, Scotland's two tries came from counterattacks inside its own half, which at least served notice of a threat out wide.

Yet Scottish rugby is in a sorry state, with the country's club teams struggling and its national team down in 12th place in the IRB rankings -- three positions below Italy.

"We have to match the intensity that they bring, because they will be really up for it," Scotland back-row forward Rob Harley said.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel's only change to his lineup came in the backs, where Gonzalo Canale was promoted from the bench to start in place of Alberto Sgarbi at centre.

Gonzalo Garcia, who hasn't played for Italy since the group match against Ireland at the 2011 World Cup, is on the bench.

"I could have made more alterations to freshen up the team but I couldn't change the team after the game against France," Brunel said on Thursday. "Last Sunday we played the way we wanted to, and now we must continue at the same level."

Harley replaces Alasdair Strokosch, who damaged an eye socket against England, and will make his first test start as one of two enforced changes for Scotland.

Hooker Dougie Hall hurt his knee in the same match and dropped out of the matchday 23, with Ross Ford promoted from the bench.

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Lineups:

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Johnnie Beattie, Kelly Brown (captain), Robert Harley, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant. Reserves: Pat MacArthur, Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Max Evans.

Italy: Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Gonzalo Canale, Luke McLean, Luciano Orquera, Tobias Botes, Sergio Parisse (captain), Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Paul Derbyshire, Edoardo Gori, Kristopher Burton, Gonzalo Garcia.

Scotland vs Italy (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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