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Scotland versus Italy: The Blockbuster we didn't know we needed

By Claire Thomas
Italian players celebrate Alyssa D'Inca's first try during the TikTok Women's Six Nations match between Italy and Ireland at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on April 15, 2023 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Federugby/Federugby via Getty Images)

It’s a well-trodden path by now, so I won’t labour the point, but last weekend’s Six Nations action managed to showcase some superb athletes and a few highly entertaining flashes, but not a single scoreline which suggests competitiveness. 3-59, 24-7, and 55-0 are about as lopsided as it gets – and not one defeated team crossed the whitewash: Keira Bevan kicked three, Ireland’s entire haul was a penalty try, and Scotland fought valiantly without landing a punch on the scoreboard.

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Round three started with a statement, sandwiched a much-needed Italian job, and ended with a cake walk – the impenetrable sort even Chloe Rollie couldn’t slice through. As I write this in a café in Paris (the perk of Vannes being a right nuisance to get to and from), the weekend’s rugby and this croissant feel comparable: the glossy crust of Abby Dow and Sarah Bern, and the buttery decadence of France’s devastating support lines, but the structural integrity of the thing – ultimately – flaky.

For as much fun as this weekend was, and as sun-drenched and enthusiasm-heavy as the sold-out stands at the Arms Park and Stade de la Rabine were, the killer blows in both matches came before half time – and the purchasing of anything other than a Eurostar ticket for the Six Nations trophy still feels a distant prospect.

Did the shockwaves of France’s demolition job in Vannes reach the walls of Twickenham? Did any of the Roses – a day into their recovery already, Croc-clad and sitting pretty at the table’s summit – raise an eyebrow as Emilie Boulard bagged her hattrick? Or as Gabrielle Vernier continued to play the game on the very easiest of difficulty settings?

Romane Menager is back and looked lethal, and both Julie Annery and Maelle Filopon were swift to remind their new coaches that they went to October’s World Cup for a reason. Les Bleues are building week by week, and the anticipation for Super Saturday’s glorious and gargantuan clash only built with each thistly snag they avoided.

That one will be a tussle, and it’ll be fantastic to genuinely not know who’ll win as the teams run out before 50,000. Thankfully, it’s not quite the only remaining match which hangs in the balance, and feels utterly unmissable. Ahead of round four, there’s one fixture you should be etching into your diaries, and that’s Scotland versus Italy. Why? Because there’s a lot at stake, there are some stars in action, and it’s not easy to call.

Let’s start with what’s on the line. Scotland need a win, and they deserve a win which isn’t just beating a wooden spoon-destined Ireland at home. That one’s almost a gimme, and Bryan Easson, Rachel Malcolm, and that entire set-up will want to snap their 12-match losing run with something meatier. Six losses by seven points or fewer, and six by wider margins, since they brushed Colombia aside in Dubai at the end of a heroic World Cup qualification tilt.

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Easson said last week that they don’t discuss the streak as a group, and that the focus was on getting wins in the remaining rounds of the Six Nations – but of course they’re aware of it, and of course it’s an added pressure each time they lace up.

Winning is a habit, and losing can prove one, too: beating Italy would be massive for this side. Malcolm has never captained Scotland to a win in this competition – having skippered them 11 times in it. What any of the game’s reporters would give to be the one who gets to interview her when that changes: she’s a complete joy and inspiration, even in defeat.

For Italy – Saturday keeps their top tier WXV hopes alive, and probably sets up a shoot-out for third spot with Wales in Parma. That really would put the ‘Super’ in ‘Super Saturday’: we could well have teams battling it out for the Grand Slam, a spot in WXV tier one, and to swerve the wooden spoon.

Under a new head coach, and after the retirement of some of their greatest ever competitors, the Azzurri are both looking to rebuild – and to back up their history-making exploits in New Zealand. They’re World Cup quarter-finalists, and a side who’ve beaten Wales, France, Japan, and the USA in the past twelve months: they ought to be able to leave Scotland with two wins on the bounce.

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More broadly – their men’s team is better than ever before, their U20s finished an unprecedented third in their edition of the tournament, Benetton are European semi-finalists for the first time, and they’ve just announced themselves as would-be World Cup hosts in 2035 and 2037. Italian rugby is as healthy as the engagement figures on anything Beatrice Rigoni-related, and their women want to – to quote Frank Sinatra – be a part of it.

The stars, then. The Lisa Thomson – Helson Nelson axis versus that of Veronica Madia and the mercurial Rigoni. The prospect of each and every player emerging in the most robust available ankle braces, ahead of Chloe Rollie and Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi shimmying and scorching their way down the DAM Health touchline.

The closing stages duel between prodigious front rowers Elliann Clarke and Anne Young, and Gaia Maris and Sara Seye. The stars of 2025: Meryl Smith, Alyssa D’Inca, Evie Gallagher, and Francesca Sgorbini. We might not see Fran McGhie (who limped off after just eight minutes on Sunday), or Emma Orr (who left on a stretcher after a nasty knock) – but it goes without saying that we fervently hope they’re back soon, and will miss their effervescent contributions very much.

Many of these names have been stifled by the intensity and accuracy of England and France so far, but they’ll get that bit more time and space in round four – and you suspect we’ll get fireworks accordingly.

The unpredictability is because of who they’ve played so far. The gap between the top two and those scrapping it out below them is so enormous that there’s not much you can learn from those scorelines. Cumulatively – Scotland lost by 113 to 7, and Italy 90 – 17.

Performance-wise, the Scots really took it to the Grand Slam champions for the first 20, just as they battled France until the halfway mark this weekend – at which point they stopped making their tackles. Italy were more convincing against Les Bleues, and did at least manage 12 points for their troubles – but they were at home for that opener, and definitely troubled England less than Malcolm and co.

Then, in their other matches, Scotland lost to Wales when they definitely could have won, and an off-colour Italy got over the line against Ireland. If they repeat those performances on Saturday – the hosts edge it, you suspect. On paper, mind, they’re ranked 11th and 5th in the world, and won zero and two matches at the World Cup – so Italy triumph in those particular metrics.

The Azzurri have also nabbed ten of the last eleven between these sides, so – although it’ll be their opponents with home advantage, and there are rumours of attendance records falling up in Scotland this month – history suggests it could be a molto bene afternoon for the visitors.

‘Could have’, ‘suggests’, ‘edge’, and ‘suspect’ in that previous paragraph: how fun! Genuine uncertainty: a collector’s item in 2023. Scotland need a win. Italy need a win. Both sides are full of talent. Heart says ‘Scotland’. Head says ‘Italy’. In reality: either side could do it.

I think April 29th will be the best day in Women’s Six Nations history, but don’t overlook round four, and this tasty little number kicking off at 4:45pm this Saturday. Scotland versus Italy. Should be good.

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Antony 451 days ago

Delicious article - lovely croissant analogy... should be a good game indeed, always prefer a lower-level ding dong to a drubbing. Come on Scotland...

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