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Rupert Wyman 26th Feb 2010 - 11:26

Scrum the key for Scotland

Scotland face Italy in Rome in the third weekend of this year's Six Nations and know that if they are to leave Italy with the win they have to scrummage well. If they achieve this then they should win, if they don't then in all likelihood they will lose.

The match, as much as both camps don't like it, is the wooden spoon decider. Whichever team loses in Rome on Saturday will more than likely finish bottom of the Six Nations table as they would have lost three matches in a row with just two left to play.

However, the assertion that both sides are poor is quite unfair as they both showed last time out. Scotland were part of a thrilling match in Cardiff and but for indiscipline, which resulted in a crazy last 10 minutes in which they conceded an incredible 17 points, they would have beaten Wales.

One day later, Italy hosted England and while Martin Johnson's side were undoubtedly poor, the Italians came close to winning and made a real fight of it.

Both sides therefore will be confident of claiming their first win of this year's championship but for me it ultimately comes down to how the visitors compete up front and how well they do at the set pieces.

If Italy are to win they will win ugly as their forwards will look to slow down the Scottish ball to the backs and make it a physical contest up front. If the Azzurri front five manage to overpower their Scottish counterparts then the 17/10 about a home victory will look huge come late Saturday afternoon.

On the other hand if Scotland are to justify their 1/2 favourites tag then they have to be competitive in the scrum and line out and try not to get drawn into the Italians game.

The Scottish front row of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Euan Murray therefore are key to Scotland's chances of winning, if they manage to at least hold their own then Andy Robinson's side should be able to get their Six Nations campaign up and running.

The way Robinson has had Scotland playing is a marked improvement on before. His side though will be without the trio of Thom Evans, Rory Lamont and Chris Paterson from their back line following the injuries they picked up in Cardiff.

Despite their absence the Scots still have enough talent in their backs to hurt Italy, especially if captain Chris Cusiter, who earns his 50th cap in the game, has a top game.

His half back partner, Dan Parks, returned to the XV for the Wales match and was impressive, so much so he earned the man-of-the-match award and if he has a fine game once again then Scotland should have too much for Nick Mallett's side.

However, Scotland must avoid getting into the aforementioned battle up front as much as possible as otherwise they will waste the superior talent they have among their backs.

As a result of the difficulty of predicting how the game is going to turn out one might wish to reserve judgement until the match starts and bet In-Play and then quickly back the team who looks to be executing their game plan more effectively.

As while Scotland have the more talented XV if they do not play their game then their 1/2 price will look a horrible bet.

The handicap gives the Scots a five-point start and I would much sooner be on the Scots in this market at 10/11 than the 1/2 in the 80 minutes as it gives you much better value for your money as if Scotland are to win they should do so reasonably comfortably, so they should cover the handicap.

If it becomes a scrappy affair though my advice would be to back Italy In-Play .

Whatever game it turns into though I think it is highly unlikely that there will be many tries so I would want to be on the under 3.5 in the total tries market at a very appealing 4/7.

The importance of this match for both sides cannot be underestimated as both come in to it looking to end unwanted runs. Italy have not won a match in the Six Nations for seven matches while Scotland have not won away in the championship for eight matches.

The promise shown by Scotland in Cardiff means the latter record is the one that is much more likely to be ended in the Stadio Flaminio, provided though that their forwards are not over powered, and that they get off to a good start like they did against Wales.



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