Scots look ready to go out on a high
Porous Italy defence faces huge task
BBC1 & RTE2, 12.30pm Saturday
In past years Scotland would have seen a final-round fixture against Italy as a shot at redemption but this year they have the chance to make it three home wins out of three and even possibly finish in a record-high second place.
They will need a bonus-point win, as high a winning margin as possible, and other results to go their way. But they are scoring tries like never before, Italy have shipped points at an alarming rate, and the Scots have every incentive to put on a big score.
As well as the opportunity of a high finish, Scotland will want to banish the demons of last weekend’s heavy defeat to England to deliver a performance for head coach Vern Cotter, the man who has orchestrated their huge improvement in recent years and is handing over the reins after this match.
The most visible sign of that improvement has been their tryscoring edge. Scotland have traditionally struggled to get over the line in the Six Nations, but they broke the double-figure barrier for the first time in last year’s tournament, bagging 11, and they already have ten in four matches this year with bottom side Italy still to come.
The Azzurri’s points-against tally after four rounds is their worst since 2001 and their defence has looked slow and disorganised as they have shipped 22 tries in those games.
Questions have again been raised over their players’ fitness as they missed 55 tackles against France last time out and their scoring tally in the second half of matches in this year’s Six Nations stands at 12 for and 120 against.
If that record wasn’t bad enough, the final round of the Six Nations has been disastrous as they have slipped to heavy defeats in each of the last three years, shipping a total of 180 points.
The handicap has been set understandably high at 26 points and that is a winning margin Scotland have rarely hit. They have won just three Six Nations matches by more than 20 points, but two of those were against Italy (in 2009 and 2013) and this Scotland team are hitting new heights.
Give the way Italy have fallen away in the second half the best bet looks to be to back the hosts giving up 13 points on the second-half handicap.
Scotland -13 on second-half handicap
2pts 10-11 Betfred