The dust hasn’t yet settled from the fall-out of Scotland’s performance against England.
Forums have been on fire and the SRU has gone on a charm offensive, wheeling out chief executive Mark Dodson and captain Greig Laidlaw to try and drum up positives from the storm of negative publicity which has been unprecedented.
The ferocity and venom contained in some of the comments in the media has taken many by surprise, calling for the axe to fall on interim head coach Scott Johnson’s neck, with many concerned that he will still be taking up his new position of director of rugby when Vern Cotter comes in later this year as coach.
On Tuesday, in a rather tense press conference, Johnson and the players met the media critics who gave them such a mauling in the press last weekend, ahead of this Saturday’s game against Italy. The pressure on the team and management must be overwhelming as they try to focus on matters on the pitch, knowing that a third poor show in Rome would be unbearable for everyone in a game already being considered by many as the wooden spoon decider.
Off the back of all this, the clash against France on March 8 has sold out, a welcome piece of positive news.
And so to the team selected for Saturday. Johnson has once again been controversial with his selection, leaving out arguably Scotland’s best in-form player from the first two games, David Denton, and bringing in Johnnie Beattie at No. 8. Kelly Brown still cannot find a place back into the squad of 23, but Richie Gray goes straight in to replace Tim Swinson in the second row, and Ross Ford loses his starting place to Scott Lawson.
The backs are unchanged and Johnson is hoping that this more mobile pack of forwards will be able to get some ball to them so they can show what they are capable of.
There is no doubt this is going to be a big match for the players – so much rests on it – and Rome has never been a very happy hunting ground for Scotland, either at the Stadio Flaminio (which is being rebuilt) or the impressive Stadio Olimpico, scene of this Saturday’s encounter. Both teams are looking for first wins this 6 Nations.
The one positive from the England game was the defence, which was superb. Italy’s pack must be tamed right away to give the Scots the edge and the discipline must be impeccable.