IT was a very pleasing gesture from the Scottish Rugby Union to suggest that a new trophy should be crafted to be presented to the winners of men’s international Six Nations matches between Scotland and Italy.

With the hearty approval of the Italian Rugby Federation, the trophy is named after much-capped prop Massimo Cuttita and that is entirely appropriate as he was hugely respected figure in both countries. His loss to Covid-19 at the age of just 54 in April last year was truly heartbreaking to all the many people who knew and loved him.

Given the circumstances, I would not normally be too bothered if Italy were the first to secure the new trophy on Saturday, but I have to say this is a ‘must win’ match for Gregor Townsend and his men and hang the sentiment. At this point I would remind you, however, that the former captain of Italy and Scotland scrum coach played in the first ever Six Nations match between the two countries back in 2000. It may have been 22 years ago but I still vividly recall how the Italians, with Cuttita in the van, took the game to Scotland and thoroughly deserved their 34-20 victory. Nor was it a second class Scottish side – Doddie Weir and Andy Nicol could only get places on the bench.

The diminutive Diego Dominguez was in brilliant form with the boot, scoring three drop goals in his 29 point haul. Kenny Logan, by contrast, had a kicking nightmare and eventually Gregor Townsend was given his duties. Sorry to bring back the unhappy memories, but I do so as a warning to Scotland’s players and fans not to get complacent in Rome on Saturday. Yes I know that Italy have lost every single Six Nations game since they came to Murrayfield and won 22-19 in 2015, and our record against them in all competitions and friendlies is pretty decent – we have only lost twice to them in a  decade – but they ran us very close in 2018 and they played very well against France in the first half of the first round of this year’s tournament.

They were frankly hopeless against England and Ireland, but it’s a question of which Italy and which Scotland turn up on Saturday. Will we be the side that beat England or the team that lost so miserably to France? Will Italy be at their very best or will they collapse as so often before? Is the Scottish squad ready to bounce back from the merde they played against France? Can Italy get themselves up to the standards they have often shown in the past, especially against Scotland?  

I do not know the answers to those questions but I do say it’s a ‘must win’ game on Saturday because it’s getting Scotland back on track that is most important, and that means winning the Massimo Cuttita Cup, preferably with plenty tries in a fine open game where the referee Luke Pearce is barely mentioned. I’ll have my say about the laws and referees after the tournament, but hopefully Saturday will just be about Scotland winning and winning well. That’s why indiscipline must be eradicated from the Scotland game plan – the referee can’t give penalties and cards if there has not been an offence committed.      

To win you should nearly always play safe but I hope Gregor Townsend does experiment with his selection. As I have stated before, this year’s Six Nations and indeed next year’s tournament must be played with the 2023 World Cup in the forefront of the minds of coaches and players alike, especially now that we have no chance of winning this current championship. The injuries sustained by the squad and the absences of major players have shown that Scotland must never anticipate playing with the best 23 and therefore it is vital that Townsend and his coaching team help the younger members of the squad to gain the experience they need before the World Cup. I think they are doing that and it paid off even in that hapless defeat by France as we saw just what Rory Darge can do – and yes, he and Hamish Watson could both play in the back row together.

Townsend was always a player who could think outside the box and he has taken that mentality into his career as a coach. I would love to see some surprises from him and his coaching team and the players in the match against Italy. Run the different angles, use the blind side, kick only when necessary and get that sharp passing game going that we know Scotland can utilise. Above all, get on the front foot early and stay there, and Scotland will win in the Stadio Olimpico.      

It’s not about evading the Wooden Spoon, but about preparing Scotland’s future, and winning must become a habit.