Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Scotland looks to improve as Italy comes knocking


Scotland coach Ian McGeechan is hoping his side will build on their performances in South Africa when they meet Italy in a World Cup buildup match today.

The Scots, heavily criticized during a lackluster Six Nations campaign earlier this year after beating the Springboks in Edinburgh last November, narrowly lost both matches in the Republic in June.

Scotland lost 29-25 in Durban and could have won if they did not lose the ball over the tryline in injury time and 28-19 in Johannesburg, despite leading 16-12 at halftime.

"We want to show that our game has moved since South Africa" said McGeechan ahead of today's match at Murrayfield. "I'd like to think that South Africa was a watershed in how we went for it.

"We have to again deliver but this time in winning ways."

The last time the two countries met was in a Six Nations match in March when Scotland sneaked a 33-25 victory over a resurgent Italian side, under the stewardship of former All Black John Kirwan.

The result was a disappointing one for both sides. The Italians produced clever handling, excellent driving play and astute judgement from flyhalf Ramiro Pez but left their run too late.

However the Scots were also reminded of their inability to sustain pressure on their opposition for 80 minutes.

To that end McGeechan sent the squad on a camp in Poland where they trained up to four times a day to improve their fitness, something noticed by captain Scott Murray.

"I've never been so fit," said Murray, who will be making his 50th appearance for his country on Saturday.

While Scotland have never lost to Italy at Murrayfield, the fact McGeechan made eight changes for the side that played in March showed he was willing to give some players the chance to impress before the World Cup in Australia.

Of particular interest will be the performances of debutant Bath winger Simon Danielli and the return of Ben Hinshelwood, who has recovered from a broken leg, at fullback.

Elsewhere behind the scrum Scotland will be looking for center Andrew Henderson to reproduce the form he showed in South Africa and for scrumhalf Mike Blair to emulate the quick breaks of Italy's Alessandro Troncon.

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