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Scrum is the key to gaining victory in Rome

THE scrum - Italy's strength but also their weakness.

Massimo Cuttitta, former Azzurri captain now coaching at Murrayfield
Massimo Cuttitta, former Azzurri captain now coaching at Murrayfield

So says Massimo Cuttitta, and he should know since not only is he Scotland's expert in that speciality but he is also the man who anchored the Azzurri pack through 69 Tests, 22 of them as captain.

His claim is that Italy will target the scrum, particularly when they are playing Scotland, and if they get on top use it as a platform to drive their forwards into a position of strength and domination. That's why it is their greatest strength. On the other hand, hold it at bay, stifle the inevitable second drive so that you achieve at least parity, and it can break them mentally.

Despite the defeats by both Ireland and England, Cuttitta says he is convinced that Scotland have the players who can deliver the scrum platform they need and inflict exactly that psychological damage on the Italians.

"Latin people are fiery people, but that fire can work against you," Cuttitta observed. "People over here are more calm but maybe when you're calm you focus more on your job and get things right. Sometimes Italy are so emotional that if you put them under pressure they crack.

"Italy put a lot of pressure in there. The Italian mentality is: 'we will take you on in the first few scrums of the game, keep the ball in, go for double-shoves and try to crack you mentally'. It's going to be difficult, because they have one of the best set-pieces in the world, but we've done it in the past and there's no reason why we can't do it again. We have won games with our scrum, it's all about belief.

"They will take us on straight away and try to weaken us there, and if they get the first few scrums and push us backwards then we're going to struggle mentally. On the other hand, because I know them well, if you do that to them they'll start asking questions [of themselves]."

In pactice, despite the criticism Cuttitta is not as despondent about the scrum as many supporters. He points out that the official figures show that Scotland had an 87% success rate against England in terms of delivering clean, quality ball and though his personal analysis was a little more pessimistic at 80%, it was still reasonable.

He says he is confident that both Moray Low and Geoff Cross are more than capable of anchoring the tighthead side. He adds that though Scotland lost in Rome two years ago, the problems lay elsewhere with the scrum certainly holding its own and arguably dominant as Jon Welsh turned in a storming performance on his international debut.

"It's very important for me to win against my home country," he added. "I played for Italy, won 69 caps, and captained Italy, but it's a different situation now. I feel really loyal to my country, which is Scotland at the moment. I've worked with these boys for a long time and want to see them come through.

"It's a bit of everything. It's not just technical stuff, it's about the mental approach to the game, the guy you're going to play against. The boys are well prepared. They know who they're playing against, what to expect from them, what to do against this opposition."

It has been a tough week for the Scotland players who have had to absorb all the flak that followed their performance against England while trying to rebuild their confidence. Cuttitta understands that and asked whether the criticism was justified has no qualms: "Definitely," he said. It's a role where you have to take it. You can't get upset. You take criticism. That is one way to grow as a coach."

Which is not to say he has given up on the team. With three games to go, Scotland could still achieve at least a respectable finish in the RBS 6 Nations Championship, and would feel well placed if they were able to win in Rome for the first time since 2006.

"They are all big games," said Cuttitta. "We have three games to play still. This is not the last game. The last time we played in Italy it was the last game and was a bit 'do or die'. But we can still win and I can't see why we shouldn't, and not just this game. If we keep working the way we're working results will come out. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to get the work done.

"I've got to believe in them and I will support them whether they do well or do badly. How many times have we actually struggled against Italy, though? Yes, last summer, but what about last year when we played them? We didn't. This is where you win the game. If we can match their forwards, or better their forwards, I think we can win."

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