ROSS FORD feels scrummaging coach Massimo Cuttita can prove to be the ace in the pack for Scotland when they welcome Italy to Murrayfield for tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations showdown.
Edinburgh hooker Ford has a six-year working association with Cuttita, the Italian who has been a consultant at club and country level for that period. Ford, who returns from injury at No.2, claims ex-Azzurri prop Cuttita has even more to offer than technical advice in a match where Scotland are only marginal favourites with bookmakers. “Being an Italian, Massimo knows our opponents’ psyche well,” said Ford. “He lets our boys know what the Italians will be like and the message that comes through is that the longer they are in the game, the more hyped up they get, which can make them so dangerous.
“I’ve worked a long time now with Massimo and he is an invaluable aide, not just for his knowledge of the scrum, but for the new ideas he comes up with. He is always thinking of new ways and constantly trying to improve us.
“Part of his approach is to instil aggression and get us playing for each other.”
Scotland return to the front five forwards that served them well in the Autumn against South Africa, when their performance down the home straight was the best for some time. Now Ford believes that with some fine-tuning at the rucks, they can earn a first victory since the summer tour.
“We know the Italians will compete hard and try to make it as messy as possible at the breakdown,” Ford continued. “We had problems last week against England because we didn’t get there quickly enough. That meant they were getting the quick ball and that is vital for getting on the front foot.
“Our forwards coach Dean Ryan can be quite laidback off the pitch, but when it comes to game matters, he calls it as it is.
“At half time last week Dean pointed out the problems we were having and we have spent a lot of time since working on the technical aspect.
“At the end of the day, it is an attitude thing, too, that makes you get into the right position. We’ve turned things around in the past and we can do it quite easily again.”
Kelly Brown, who succeeded Ford as Scotland captain, knows what the main priorities are tomorrow. “We are aware of three or four areas (at Twickenham) where we were quite clearly second best,” he said. “If you don’t get those things spot on, it is very hard to win an international match.”
One concern is the absence of an out-and-out open-side wing forward due to the injuries for both Ross Rennie and Chris Fusaro. By comparison with the Scottish back row, the ball-winner in the Italian back row, Simone Favaro, is built for speed at almost a stone lighter than any of the home breakaway trio. What the Scots have in their favour, though, is an upper-body strength that can see them turn rivals in the tackle.
Nobody is more accomplished than Brown in that respect, who pirated possession taken into rucks or mauls by the opposition no fewer than five times last week – more than any other player in the three matches. Brown needed no reminding of the importance of turnovers and slick second phase for the backs to run off.
“When opponents have ball we need to be solid and slow the possession down,” he continued. “When we have it, there’s a need for control, because we have players to cause sides problems. There’s a lot of pace in our back three and it is up to us to give them really good set-piece ball, and, when we get into the phase game, make it as fast as we can for them.”
One of those ready to capitalise is Sean Maitland, whose Test debut was highlighted by an early try which gave Scotland the perfect start at Twickenham. The 24-year-old is looking to kick on from that moment and cross the whitewash against the Italians, a side he knows very little about, having spent most of his life in New Zealand.
“I’d played at Twickenham before but this is a real journey into the unknown,” he said. “I haven’t had any association with Italy or played in Italy. I’ve had to look at the tapes starting when we got back into camp.”
If the Italians are unfamiliar to Maitland, so too was the Scottish anthem ahead of the London trip. “The boys had me singing for practice on the bus and at my first attempt I got the very first word wrong. Fortunately by match time I had nailed it.”
One player well versed is Euan Murray, who makes his first home appearance since picking up his 50th Scotland cap at Twickenham last week.
It was a proud day for Murray and his family and one that included a special jersey presentation by an ex-Grand Slammer in his same tight-head prop position.
“Paul Burnell made the journey to our hotel to hand over my jersey and say a few words which was very much appreciated,” said Murray.
“Getting to lead the team out – the first time I’d ever done that for any side – was a highlight to compare with playing in the away win over Australia during the summer.
“Also, any time I am part of a dominant scrum going forward, that is a highlight. Hopefully there will be a few of those against Italy because I don’t feel that as a team we are far away from winning if we get the technique and emotion right.”
For Scotland it is, surely, time to walk the walk, but this is an Italian team who have won at Murrayfield before and are buoyant after stunning France in Rome last weekend.
Saturday, February 2: Wales 22, Ireland 30; England 38. Scotland 18. Sunday, February 3: Italy 23, France 18.
Tomorrow: Scotland v Italy (2.30); France v Wales (5.00). Sunday, February 10: Ireland v England (3.00)
Saturday, February 23: Italy v Wales (2.30); England v France (5.00). Sunday, February 24: Scotland v Ireland (2.00).
Saturday, March 9: Scotland v Wales (2.30); Ireland v France (5.00). Sunday, March 10: England v Italy (3.00).
Saturday, March 16: Italy v Ireland (2.30); Wales v England (5.00); France v Scotland (8.00)