Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttitta has given a timely vote of confidence to Edinburgh prop Alasdair Dickinson ahead of Saturday’s vital RBS Six Nations Championship clash with Italy at BT Murrayfield.
According to the one-time Azzurri prop, who played in his country’s Six Nations debut win over Scotland in 2000, Dickinson now ranks as one of the best around.
“I would be biased but I think if there was a Lions tour at the end of this season, Alasdair would be in a squad picked right now,” said Cuttitta, adding: “He’s made a big improvement. He’s playing his best at the moment.
“And he’s like wine. The older he gets, the better he gets.”
Dickinson is 31 years old but, according to Cuttitta, his best is yet to come. All good news with the Lions scheduled to visit New Zealand in 2017,
“I probably peaked at about 33, when I was playing in England,” said Cuttitta.
“That’s just experience. You mature a lot later as a prop and Dicko is proving that. The game has evolved in many ways but, in the respect of props maturing later, things are just the same.
“We’ve got some good boys coming through, too, though.”
While Cuttita was understandably keen to talk up his countrymen saying “Italy are dangerous. You can’t underestimate Italy. You can’t treat them lightly”, the facts say something entirely different.
Of their last 19 games since the end of the 2013 Six Nations – where they signed off with a memorable victory over ireland – the Italians have beaten only Samoa and Fiji. During that period, they have also lost to Samoa as well as Japan which is hardly likely to strike fear into Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s troops.
So, this is shaping up as a giant banana skin for the Scots especially with the vastly-experienced Martin Castrogiovanni, capped 109 times, likely to be missing due to a bizarre incident when he was bitten on the nose by a friend’s dog.
Again, though, Cuttita seeks to introduce a note of caution.
He said: “Castro is charismatic, he’s a big loss. But I think Lorenzo Cittadini is covering in the scrums really well. He’s been doing really well with Wasps so they’re both good players. He’s a youngster coming up.
“Castro’s more of a loss as a personality. Cittadini is a much quieter boy, a youngster who just knuckles down and works hard.”
Where Cuttitta does appear to be on the money is in claiming that rugby is a growth sport, certainly in his home town of Anzio. According to the translated version of the website boasted by a club only formed only in 2005. there are teams at ‘primo, old, under-18, under-16, under-14, under-12, under-10, under-8, under 6 and .... BABY rugby’.
“Rugby is actually growing as a sport in Italy. Everybody wants to go see it, everybody is really interested in it,” says Cuttitta, adding: “Although they don’t know that much about it, they like the sport, like the atmosphere.
“And there are a lot of new players, a lot of kids joining up.
“Just about every little town in Italy has a team. My little town has two local teams. I think Italy have probably ten times the number of players we have in Scotland.
“That’s in raw numbers. Well, we’ve got a population of 65 million in Italy.
“They’ve definitely got the money to develop. The Italian Union is the second richest after soccer in Italy.
“They’ve got 30 academies with teams. So I think they spend their money on that.”
Maybe a dividend for that investment came with three tries at Twickenham for Italy last time out.
“Not many teams score three tries at Twickenham so I wouldn’t mind if Scotland managed that,” says Cuttitta.