SCOTLAND can win this one.

That is not an assertion you could honestly make before many of the national team’s games in the Women’s Six Nations in recent years, but this time there are sound reasons for believing that they have what it takes to beat Italy at Scotstoun today.

One reason is quite simply the comparative form of the two teams. Both lost to England in their first outings in this year’s Championship, which is why this game will decide second place in Pool A and determine who goes through to a third-place play-off next weekend against either Ireland or France. (If the game is a draw, incidentally, Scotland will progress on points difference).

But Scotland, although they were beaten 52-10, were more competitive the longer their match in Doncaster went on. Italy, by contrast, began brightly enough in Parma, only to fade badly and lose 67-3.

In other words, on the admittedly limited evidence that we have, Scotland are a fitter team than their opponents. “We keep saying we’re the fittest team to have played for Scotland,” outside-centre Lisa Thomson said on Thursday. “We saw that [against England in] the second half and we’re going to show that again, but for the full 80 minutes this weekend.

“We have to start well and believe we can keep going. We’ve been training so hard since August and everybody is just so excited to get playing again.

“We were slow to get started in the first half two weeks ago. Definitely we have to play from the first whistle, as we know Italy are an aggressive bunch that will come out at us in those first 20 minutes. They have big ball-carriers and tackle hard as well and will
look to jackal the ball, so our attacking breakdown will have to be on it.”

Thomson herself is a pretty strong ball-carrier, and her move from 12 to 13 this week should give her more space in which to attack. Helen Nelson has moved in turn from 10 to 12, partly to compensate for the absence of outside-centre Hannah Smith, but also to accommodate Sarah Law.

Although she has also played a lot of rugby at scrum-half, Law, who is making her comeback from a long-term injury, is best suited to playing at stand-off because of her game-management skills - which Thomson believes are second to none.

“It’s really good having Slaw back,” she added. “Her brain is like no-one else’s. She reads the game so well, she’s got so many good ideas. It’s exciting to have her back on the pitch.”

Of course, Law will need decent ball from her pack if she is to make best use of her talent, and in that respect too, the omens are good. As head coach Bryan Easson suggested after naming his side, Scotland’s forwards have made significant progress in the set piece of late. Emma Wassell is a commanding figure in the lineout, Lana Skeldon is at the heart of a formidable front row, and the pack as a whole are increasingly well drilled.

And, even without a crowd, Scotstoun still provides a degree of home advantage for the squad. So there is a lot going in their favour today.

Against all that, however, is the absence not only of Smith, but also of Rachel Malcolm, who is out injured and has been replaced as captain by Nelson. Malcolm’s back-row play is important enough on its own to the team, but her leadership has been invaluable. She will be missed, and it will be up to other senior but less vocal players such as Thomson to help compensate for her absence.

And of course Italy are not here merely to make up the numbers. They have only lost once to Scotland in the past decade - at Broadwood in 2017 - and players such as veteran scrum-half Sara Barattin give them a hardened professionalism which the Scots have sometimes lacked.

So yes, Scotland can win this one, and if they do themselves justice they will. But if they get off to a slow start they could leave themselves with too much to do later on, no matter how fit they may be