Bryn Palmer

Succour for Scots in Italy mind games (31)

Paris - It is not only England it seems who are struggling to translate training-ground effort into match-day mettle.

The good news for Scotland supporters is that Italy are proving equally inept.

Wednesday’s laboured victory over Portugal was the Azzurri’s third dismal display in a row after their ‘non-match’ (according to their coach Pierre Berbizier) against the All Blacks (a 14-76 defeat) and a painful 24-18 win over Romania.

The fact they have played those three games in the space of 12 days may have something to do with it.

Just as in 2003, the Italians have been on the rough end of the tournament schedulers’ machinations, with less time to recover and prepare than the major nations.

But it appears the biggest problem is between their ears.

“We are not concentrating enough, and we played the same way against New Zealand and Romania,” their genial prop Martin Castrogiovanni, he of the flowing locks and raffish beard, told me in the bowels of the Parc des Princes after Wednesday’s game.

“I think it is all in our heads. We are really bad at the moment. We didn’t respect what the coach told us in training, we were nervous, we didn’t play well at all.”

They started brightly enough, and had a try on the board within three minutes when Andrea Masi sliced through the Portuguese midfield with ease.

We sat back and waited for more. Instead we got a litany of handling errors, knock-ons, wayward passes and poor decisions.

Italy had to wait another 69 minutes for their second try, and couldn’t even muster a bonus point for scoring four.

That is not to decry another marvellous effort from Portugal, who knocked the Italians out of their stride and took great encouragement once they realised that opponents who had beaten them 83-0 last year did not have the weapons to hurt them greatly provided they made their tackles and played field position well.

But Italy appeared distracted, giving the impression they didn’t really want to get out of second gear against these pesky Portuguese, knowing their greatest challenge awaits a week on Saturday against Scotland in St Etienne.

Castrogiovanni acknowledged that after a breakthrough Six Nations campaign, in which they recorded two wins in the tournament for the first time and their first away from Rome (at Murrayfield), expectations inside and outside the squad had changed.

“We have some outside pressures and we are not good at living with that,” he said. “In Italy after the Six Nations all the people expect us to have a massive World Cup, and maybe that is not good for us.

“We think we are good but we don’t play so good, I think that is the bottom line. But we have a good group, we are all friends, and we need to remember how we played in the Six Nations, where we had some exciting games.”

Italy have nine days in which to come up with some answers, but excitement may be the key.

They clearly found it difficult to get up for a game against the All Blacks that even they probably accepted they had little chance of winning, while being expected to deliver efficient, comfortable wins against Romania and Portugal also didn’t appear to sit easily with the Italian psyche.

Castrogiovanni declared Scotland will start favourites in St Etienne, and it is difficult to dismiss that as mind games given the form of both sides so far.

But the Leicester prop, player of the year in England’s Premiership last season, hinted that Italy will be far more comfortable when they will need to summon their innate passion and fervour for the fray against Scotland, rather than try to think their way around a physically committed underdog such as Romania or Portugal.

“We both want to win, but I think it will be decided by who wants to win most,” he added. “I don’t think it will be so technical, it is going to be a really hard game and all about heart. It is going to be really emotional.”

Indeed. For Italy a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup beckons for the first time, a tangible marker of their progress since joining the Six Nations in 2000.

For Scotland, a proud record of never failing to reach at least the last eight is on the line. Regardless of Sunday’s result against New Zealand, qualification was always likely to boil down to 80 minutes at the Stade Geoffrey-Guichard from the moment the draw was made.

“We have one game left now, one chance, and we need to take that chance,” Castrogiovanni added. “I don’t mind if we play another ugly match and win.”

Hmm, sound familiar? For England in Nantes on Saturday, read Italy in St Etienne a week on Saturday.

The prospect of redemption can be a persuasive force in rugby.

Bryn Palmer is the BBC Sport website’s rugby union editor.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 01:07 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Alistair wrote:

Nice article I do wish Italy had done their usual of blowing hot early on, I think their rubbish form can only help them against Scotland sadly. If the Scots can keep their momentum against New Zealand and take things out of the game other than just a better score than the Italians managed, like not dropping the balls in attack so much then I reckon they can win quite well, particularly if they don't concede three tries in the first six minutes

  • 2.
  • At 01:48 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • anysparechange wrote:

they will provide Scotland with a decent test but going on form, you have to back Scotland to win. Italy will surely improve but sound defence will be enough to dishearten them.

if Scotland put in a commendable performance against NZ they will retain confidence against Italy and throw the ball around. I don't want to sound complacent but I'm pretty confident of a scottish victory. there won't be any gifts this time.

  • 3.
  • At 02:40 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • paul wrote:

Not sure I totally agree that Italy have it any more rough with the scheduling than anyone else. Remeber, the Scots have to face Italy just a few days after playing the All Blacks. Don't think the shedule has done anyone any favours...

  • 4.
  • At 03:02 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • rick wrote:

i think you can argue for and against both fixture schedules although I'm now coming round to the belief that its maybe no bad thing to have the 2 hard games at the end. 6 days between the AB's and Italy is tight but not disasterous.

There's no point in Haddon playone with a niggling injury against the All Blacks but seeing as we're all fit and accounted for then I expect a strong selection but using the cover in the squad where we have it most. Perhaps bring in the likes of Scott Murray, Kelly Brown, Andy Henderson or Chris Cusiter to keep things fresh.

  • 5.
  • At 03:57 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

I'm Afraid on paper Italy have better players EG Castrogiovani, Bortolami, Parisse, Bergamsco Mauro, Troncon,Masi,Canale, Bergamasco Mirko. All Major Stars in their recpective clubs in France and the UK. Scotland have Two or three World class plays at best. The Fact is that Hadden has done a VERY Good job with the team and the results are testimony of that work. Italy have just not played to their potential, and not clicked. If they don't then Scotland will crush them, if they do then Italy will make history, with if Argentina coming top, a possible semi! Inter latin games are funny affairs, Italy have beaten Argentina and vice verser when its least expected

  • 6.
  • At 04:03 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Shaun wrote:

Italy will give Scotland a tough game but if Scotland get off to a good start i.e. not 21-0 down after 7 mins then on current form you would expect them to win comfortably (15-20 points).

  • 7.
  • At 04:03 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • sam wrote:

i am completely confident of a scottitsh win, anything else would be criminal

  • 8.
  • At 04:34 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Anthony, Milan wrote:

As a Scot living in Italy I couldn't live through another defeat like in this years 6nations...! Castrogiovanni is very right: it's not gonna be a technical match, it's gonna be one played with their hearts, a wee final! I'm sure we'll all have a lot of fun watching it.

  • 9.
  • At 04:39 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • danilo wrote:

I write from Italy, i hope Richard"s right, but i think the same Sam thinks. However let's wait for the 29th and let the best win.

  • 10.
  • At 04:45 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • danilo wrote:

I write from Italy, i hope Richard"s right, but i think the same Sam thinks. However let's wait for the 29th and let the best win.

  • 11.
  • At 04:54 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

#5 - Richard, you are right to be afraid. You clearly have very limited knowledge of the Scottish players if that is your opinion. If I was making sweeping statements like that I'd be afraid too.

In reality Italy have some excellent talent, as do Scotland. Some of their talent is superior to Scotland and some not.

The Italian midfield are very good, with Contepomi a stand out for me. The front row is formidable and the back row rarely take a backward step. Scotland, however, have a genuinely world class back row, a world class goal kicker and two of the better scrum halves in world rugby. While Scotland may lack a General like Contepomi in midfield, the Lamont boys, Webster and Paterson are all capable of sparking attacks from broken play and Park's kicking from hand is capable of turning most defences. I think the key word, in terms of talent, is "different".

I expect a hard fought game and in all honesty, on balance, I expect Scotland to win.

  • 12.
  • At 05:30 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Arm wrote:

#11 Simon

Agree with the general sentiment in your message....but unfortunately (for Italy!) Contepomi is Argentinian...

The Italy match will be closely fought but I believe the Scots will edge this one. We should know more after the AB game...but then even that depends on team selection!

  • 13.
  • At 05:50 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • gransoporro wrote:

Simon, #11

The Contepomi brothers, like Todeschini, are of clear Italian origins. But they play for Argentina....

Are you sure you are assessing the right team? Or maybe you already feel in the quarter finals?

  • 14.
  • At 05:58 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • luigi wrote:

Here's Luigi from Italy. Unfortunately Contepomi plays for Argentina, dear Simon ...

  • 15.
  • At 06:03 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Oh dear all you Die hard Scottish fans letting passion cloud your judgment. The three players I was referring to Were White Patterson-WhoI think is Magic but compleatly wasted on the wing- and Lamont, both I suppose. Look I know Italy are perfect able to screw it up, but this insistant that somehow Scotland have a divine write to get to the quarters 'cause they were there at the begining of rugby is plain silly. It's like pretending Britan still has an empire! The reality is that Ireland nearly went out and was saved by some poor Drop goals and a ref that if the ABs had driven over it would "Assumed" an Ab had the ball and the try had been given! Scotland has screwed up by try to compeate with France and england in Proffessional clubs, and cut the ammout of clubs and overpaid players sdso the can't sustain it. Scotland doesn't have the players comeing through - with 3.5 million people to compeate. It would have been better to have more teams and pay less, exporting the better ones abroad, like Argentina Georgia Romania Italy etc. Having said that to repeat myself, Scotland are playing better that Italy now 'cause Italy ar'nt clicking and If that happens against Scotland then Scotland will win handsomly

  • 16.
  • At 06:48 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Wee Man wrote:

C'mon the Azzurri. I hope you thrash the deluded scots. NZ will do it first for ya, then you can pick up whats left. Hurrah!
Boks to Win!

  • 17.
  • At 01:32 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Allan Hornsby wrote:

There seems to be an assumption that in spite of Italy's poor start they will magically recover to beat an improving Scotland. Seems more like wishful thinking than evidence based thinking to me.

Thanks to 'Wee Man' for the startling prediction that New Zealand will win against the Scots. Who would have thought it? Rather like backing Canada to beat Mali at ice hockey.

  • 18.
  • At 03:22 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • James wrote:

I hope Italy beat Scotland. Italy can fill a stadium I'm sure.

  • 19.
  • At 07:33 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Having seen Italy playing Portugal, I'd have to conclude that Scotland are favourites to win on RWC form. The Italians got a lot of possession and penalties from Portuguese giving the ball away. A more disciplined side would have run Italy a lot closer.

Scotland managed to keep Romania well away from scoring (apart from a 3 minute period camped 2 metres from the try line) despite a lot of turnover and fumbles from the Scots. 42 - 0 was a comfortable victory. Italy were only a converted try from going down to Romania.

Yes, #6 Shaun, we don't want to give away 21 points. But the 21 points well remembered obscures the fact that the result was 37 - 17 i.e. in the rest of the match Scotland only outscored Italy by 17 to 16 points. It was a very good Italian performance.

It will be scrappy but I think Scotland will be able to have a few more purple patches that the Italians and be ahead by 10 or more points at fulltime.

  • 20.
  • At 08:56 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Ian MacK wrote:

Wee Man #16,

The Scots are deluded?! An unfair and apologies, deluded comment. Not even the most passionate Scotsman can really see us beat the New Zealanders, but as a team unit, we are superior to the Italians at present, and should, if we kick early penalties as opposed to going for tries and panicking like in the Six Nations, win comfortably.

  • 21.
  • At 10:43 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Ian Bru wrote:

I've grown up in a household where the merest mention of a Scottish victory attracts the usual "Shut up, you'll jynx them!!" comments. Having been a committed (and tragic) supporter of Scottish rugby over the years, I can think of plenty of examples where expectations of a scottish win have led to a crushing defeat - the games against England and Italy in this year's 6 Nations are just a couple of painful examples.

Is this superstition, or just the inevitable effects of over-confidance?

If fate really does have something to do with our performance (and my parents are unlikely to change their minds any time soon), I've decided to tempt fate to my advantage, by saying the following to anyone who asks:

"Italy will win by 30 points, with tries from Masi, Bergomasco (both), Troncon, and Bortolussi (among others). Scotland will suffer shocking injuries to the Lamont brothers, White, Taylor, Hogg, Blair, Cusiter *and* Rory Lawson, as well as Nathan Hines and Scott Murrey. Italy will win the RWC for sure".

Now that fate's on my side, let's get on with the war...

  • 22.
  • At 11:02 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

Oops, guess I should think before I type eh? Apologies and thanks to all who corrected me!

Despite my howler though, the original thrust of my post remains.

  • 23.
  • At 11:24 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Stu wrote:

Come on - anyone who knows Scotland knows exactly what will happen - we'll beat the All Blacks resoundingly - just failing to garner the extra point.

We'll then come out cock-a-hoop against the Italians lose 5 tries to nil and bow out gracefully thinkin what coulda been.

For the record - we'll also beat Ukraine and Italy at football and lose out to a last minute penalty in Georgia ...

  • 24.
  • At 12:20 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • jock wrote:

Dear Simon - don't worry - we'll forgive your gaffe if you can come up with a good Argentinian stand off with a Scottish granny

  • 25.
  • At 12:29 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Warren Marabwa wrote:

Italy are a side to watch out for on there day they can surprise the scots but at times like these normally experience will overrule and i can see the scots narrowly beating Italy but it wont be a walk over

  • 26.
  • At 01:32 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • John wrote:

How can you say the Italians have had the rough end of the schedulers machinations?

Scotland have 6 days between AB and Scotland game.

  • 27.
  • At 02:00 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Ziobeege wrote:

Undoubtedly form suggests that Scotland should win comfortably. But I think there are other intangible issues to consider. Italy know that if they lose:

1. It will be Pierre Berbizier's last game as coach.

2. it will be Troncon's last game for Italy

Also Scotland will not be playing at home, correcting a ridiculous situation where home ground advantage is bestowed on a team who are not even the tournament hosts. I won't get started on that rant, as I am sure it has been covered in other posts!

As a Castrogiovanni said, the game on the 29th will be all about heart and emotion and on neutral territory. I think we can expect to see a very different Azzurri side.

  • 28.
  • At 02:42 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Doug wrote:

I am slightly confused by the jibe that "Italy can fill a stadium" when Italy rely entirely on away fans to get the Flaminio close to full for 6N games - and that's just a 28,000 seater stadium let alone them filling a 67,500 steater like M'field which Scotland have to try and do.

I'd hazard a guess that there were more Scots in St.Etienne than there were Italians at the PDP or Stade Velodrome when you take the French neutrals out of the equation. I'd also hazard a guess there will be more Scots than Italians in St.Etienne next week despite the game being played so close to the Italian border.

Anyway - back to the game - we will put up a brave but ultimately losing battle against NZ and get beat by 20 points - then we will beat Italy comfortably - again by around 20 points.

Italy are very like us in that they have a few genuine international class players but not a full teasm worth. When those guys don't click there not much to fall back on as we saw in the Matt Williams era. Our guys are clicking just now and the Italians are not.

Incidentially, I think Scotland will get the furthest of all the 6 Nations counties this world cup due to combination of a favourable draw (it will actually suit us to lose to the AB's and potentially avoid France - we can beat both Ireland and Argentina on our day and have done recently) - the fact is that despite all the doom and gloom merchants who love to run Scotland down in the media, us and Wales are the form NH teams just now (although given the competition from the rest of the NH that's probably not saying much!).

  • 29.
  • At 03:24 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • blueberry wrote:


3.5 million? More like 5 million, and although that's considerably less than the Italian population it's more than New Zealand can draw on, so clearly population size isn't everything.

And as for your assertion that Scotland hove no quality players coming through, in this squad alone Barclay is 21, Ford is 23, five players are 24, five are 25 and five are 26. So this is not some team of players in their mid-thirties creaking along on their last legs. Most of these players, and many talented guys left at home, have "come through" in the past 3 or 4 years and have many years' playing ahead of them. Murray and Hines are the grandpas of the side and they're only 31 or 32, I think. It's true that Scottish rugby has been in better health in previous years, but the U19, U21 and 7 sides, while not exactly setting the heather alight, are keeping pace with the likes of the Irish and Welsh and are certainly ahead of the Italians. And player numbers are up in all age groups in the past couple of years despite the troubles of the professional sides. So clearly you're talking nonsense on this point.

I do agree though that the Italians have some very good players. But I think you're making a common (though from an Italian point of view very foolish) assumption that the Scots are generally pretty mediocre with only one or two good players. They have much greater talent than you think, and the tragedy of the past 5 or 6 years is that everyone has come to accept underperformance on the part of the Scots as the norm.

You pick out only White from the forwards, but there are at least a good half dozen other players that most 6N sides would give their right arm for. Scotland's biggest problem is psychological. They have tended to believe the hype (or whatever the opposite of hype is) over the past few years that they are rubbish, and have subsequently gone out and played poorly.

I don't believe any team has a divine right to win. In fact, before the tournament started I would have said Italy were in the better frame of mind to go through to the quarters. But after the group results so far I would say that the advantage has swung Scotland's way as they look much more focussed and determined. That could change if the Scots really suffer against the All Blacks, but if they do ok they will feel confident for the Italy match, whereas the Italians will still have nagging doubts about whether they can turn around their form. Unless they run up a couple of very early scores (which, of course, they've managed against Scotland already this year) it will eat away at them and their form will suffer even more.

  • 30.
  • At 03:30 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Joe wrote:

Scotland to win comfortably I reckon. A freak win in the six nations wont stop us, then a quarter against the argies, who will prob beat us.

And Stu as for your prediction on the football, If we win both those games then we will definately qualify, so I hope you right.

  • 31.
  • At 03:07 AM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Alan Melville wrote:

Haven't we just lost the 'mind games'? Wimping out against NZ instead of playing our top XV sends all the wrong messages. What's the point in playing in the World Cup unless you at least try to win the bloody thing? With this sort of attitude we'll never beat the bloody ABs, and never win any other tournament (6N included), ever (again).

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