In days gone by, the fixture between Scotland and Italy was often seen as the decider for the Wooden Spoon in any year’s Six Nations tournament. That was indeed the case, for example, in 2004 when Italy recorded their sole victory against Scotland and we drew a miserable blank with no wins at all.

The last close-run thing between our two nations was in 2019 when the Spoon was decided early in the tournament by that crunching victory at Murrayfield when Blair Kinghorn scored the first hat-trick by any Scottish player in Six Nations history.  Italy did not manage a single point while Scotland added bonus points and the draw with England to finish well clear of the Azzurri. 

Even when Italy pulled off that stunning late win in Cardiff two years ago, we still avoided the Spoon, and as I will never tire of repeating, when you beat England and win the Calcutta Cup four years running you are unlikely to be the Spoonists.

Since the Five became Six with the addition of Italy in 2000, the Azzurri have finished last in the Championship 18 times, and eight of their Spoons have come in the last eight years in succession. Including non-Six Nations matches, Scotland are now on a run of 13 wins over Italy, home and away, so why am I less than fully confident about Saturday’s encounter in Rome?

Some people think there is nothing much at stake on Saturday apart from the Cuttita Cup, and Scotland should already be looking forward to Ireland in Dublin a week on Saturday when there could be a lot at stake.

The reasoning is that if by some miracle England beat Ireland then if Scotland beat Italy not only would the Triple Crown be up for grabs but also the Championship itself. Concentrate on that possibility and not the match in Rome, goes the theory. Nuts to that.

I have maintained all along that Ireland will win their back-to-back Grand Slam and with England in poor form and the Irish rampant, I expect the title to be decided at Twickenham with the trophy bedecked in green ribbons. 

That would still leave the Triple Crown to be decided between ourselves and Ireland, and that would be an achievement in itself - so why do I also say that we must beat Italy on Saturday?

The reason why is the World Rugby rankings. Because of the ranking system it is fairly sure that if we beat Italy and Ireland beat England, we will leapfrog the English in the rankings. We are in sixth, just 0.64 points behind England, and because the rankings give allowances for such things as home advantage and relative strength of the teams, plus the margin of victory, we would almost certainly overtake England and rise to fifth place, equalling our highest ever ranking which we achieved in 2018 and last year. 

Since the rankings are relied on by World Rugby for matters such as seedings and they will certainly decide what happens in the new global tournament, the Nations Championship, which begins in 2026, we need to keep as high up in the rankings as possible. So there is something at stake for Scotland on Saturday.

Scotland must be very wary of Italy. They are a hugely improved squad, and were desperately unlucky to only draw with France while their performance against England was wholly admirable. They had an off day in Dublin, but that’s happening to everyone going there these days. 

They have a developing squad mixing experience and youth, and head coach Gonzalo Quesada is clever and inspiring as well as being multi-lingual. Make no mistake, Italy are no longer anyone’s whipping boys and Scotland will need to be at the top of their game. 

That being said, the brilliant come-from-behind win over England demonstrated Scotland’s individual and collective strengths and once again we will need the pack to front up against a tough eight and win enough ball to release our match-winning backs.

Quesada will no doubt have worked out a plan to try and contain Duhan van der Merwe, but he would be better concentrating on Blair Kinghorn who just loves to score against Italy. It is Finn Russell, not surprisingly, who I think can win the game for Scotland. The Italian backs have terrific talents such as Paolo Garbisi and Tomasso Allan, but if Russell’s on his game he will lead Scotland to victory.

Stepping away from Six Nations momentarily, having reported back in early November that Whitecraigs 2nd XV recorded a 166-0 loss against Ayr, I am delighted to report that – as I expected of a well-run club – that their seconds have rallied and recorded their first win in this season’s West Region Reserve League Division One, beating Hillhead Jordanhill 2nd XV 43-24. 

My criticism of the SRU stands, however. Not enough is being done to help clubs with the recruitment and retention problems that are nearly all facing.