Having been implicated in one of the most notorious acts of larceny in rugby history, when he was accused of spying on the 2001 Lions in Australia and cracking their lineout codes, Scott Johnson was taking no chances in Rome yesterday when he ordered his forwards to go through their set-piece drills well away from prying Italian eyes.

As a consequence, only a few of the Scottish pack made it along to the lunchtime captain's run at the Stadio Olimpico, where the two sides will meet today, and Johnson made it clear that the very public nature of the place was the primary reason for their absence.

"All these people are up there because they are photographers?" scoffed Johnson, gesturing to some camera-wielding Italians nearby. "I'm sure. Out there, what you do usually gets filmed or videoed and that sort of stuff, so why bother? We go somewhere else to do it."

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It is believed that the Scots went through their drills in a park near the team hotel in the centre of Rome. Their disastrous performance in the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield two weeks ago demanded serious remedial action, although there has been no suggestion then that the English forwards were privy to inside information.

The Scots go into today's game without a win, and having amassed just six points in their two outings against Ireland and Italy.

They beat Italy twice last year - in the Six Nations in Edinburgh and in the Castle Series tournament in South Africa - but their record in Rome is poor. In seven visits to the city since Italy's admission to the expanded championship, they have won just twice, and most recently in 2006.

That backdrop means Italy, who are also winless in 2014, are firm favourites, but Sergio Parisse, their outstanding captain, urged caution.

"A victory is not a foregone conclusion," said Parisse ahead of his 104th appearance for his country. "We must not make the mistake of addressing the match without the proper concentration. Scotland have put us in trouble often in the past.

"We have to play in the best possible way. It would be a fatal error if we do not go into the match with the right attitude."

Italy's playmaker will be Tommaso - aka Tommy - Allan, who turned his back on Scotland, for whom he played age-grade rugby, when he opted for the land of his birth - rather than that of his Scottish father - last year. However, Johnson, whose last-ditch attempt to persuade Allan to stay with Scotland ended in failure, said the fly-half's presence was not an issue.

"He has made his decision so good luck to him," said the coach. "We have to move on. He becomes just another Italian player. We have to acknowledge his skillset, get on with it and make sure we make it an uncomfortable day for every Italian, not just him."