Skipper Greig Laidlaw insists morale in the Scotland camp is “frustrated” but “not low” as they prepare to travel to Rome hoping to finally break the harrowing run of nine straight Six Nations defeats.
Laidlaw believes if Scotland can get over the barrier and register a win on Saturday they can look to finish the tournament on a high.
After losses to England and Wales in the first two matches of this year’s competition, the clash against the equally winless Italians is looming as an absolutely pivotal encounter, with a lurch towards an unthinkable second straight Wooden Spoon whitewash a distinct possibility if things go wrong.
“It is not difficult to convince the team,” said Laidlaw. “They understand we are not playing badly. We are playing against good teams.
“Wales away is a tough place to go and win while England took their couple of opportunities. If we took ours we could have tipped the balance and won the game.
“Morale is frustrated. Certainly not low.”
Laidlaw called a team meeting after an extended training session yesterday morning and is leaving no stone unturned in the search for that elusive victory.
“It was an extremely tough session. Afterwards, we tidied up a few things at the end of training and then we went to our meeting,” explained the Gloucester scrum-half. “We wanted to run through a few things, tidy up a few things and chat through a few things.
“At the players meeting, we discussed what we want to do at different periods of the game. I can’t give away too much but we wanted to meet and discuss things after the training session.”
Laidlaw is well aware that Italy will be fired up for the visit of the opponents they have had by far their best record against, but feels that just getting that win could act as a catalyst.
“They’ll be stuffy, trying to target this game, clearly,” he said. “Strong scrum, strong lineout, that’s pretty much what we expect and they’ll look to play off the back of that as well.
“There’s a lot riding on the game and we understand that. The good thing is there’s three games to go and, if we can get a positive performance that brings us that win, we then return home to Murrayfield after a week off against France.
“The tournament’s tight, there’s nobody really that far ahead I don’t think.”
Laidlaw continues to preach a positive outlook and views that as the only way to break free from the losing habit.
“We’ve got to play with confidence, 100 per cent,” he said. “I think we are playing with confidence, we’re playing well, we simply need to squeeze a little bit more out of each other to get over the line.
“Just tidy up those little instances from around the game. If we do that, we’ll be in a good frame of mind.
“We’ve got to play with confidence, especially the strike runners. [Stuart] Hogg was excellent against England and unfortunately was hurt against Wales but Tommy [Seymour] took up the mantle. We need to give these boys licence to go and play well.”
Laidlaw knows that his own performance sets the tone and felt he stepped up well in Cardiff during that 27-23 defeat.
“I have tried to make a few tweaks and I want to try and improve as a leader,” he continued.
“I look at my performance in Cardiff and I was happy how I played. If you perform well, other players will perform well. I have to put my performance first and, if I lead, then others can follow off the back of it.”
Scotland know Italy as well as any international team at present, having come up against them three times in the past 12 months – following up the agonising 22-19 home loss in the Six Nations with two wins in World Cup warm-up Tests.
The second of those summer clashes was a thumping 48-7 victory at BT Murrayfield but Laidlaw knows the Italians will go into this game confident they can notch an eighth Six Nations win over the Scots.
“We understand Italy will back themselves and we don’t have any control over that,” he said.
“We simply concentrate on ourselves.
“They shipped a fair few points at home last time [a 40-9 home defeat by England] so we think we can see opportunities if we play properly, we can cause them problems.”