Scotland wary of Italians
February 2, 2000

Scotland, final champions in the old Five Nations championship, are understandably wary prior to their trip to Rome this week.

Scotland meet Italy on Saturday in the opening round of the Six Nations championship.

"We've not travelled particularly well to Italy but there are other factors that make this a very dangerous fixture for us," said coach Ian McGeechan.

"It's Italy's first championship match and so they will be especially eager to do well in front of their home crowd and keen to make an early impression especially under their new coach (Brad Johnstone).

"Some of their play early on in the World Cup was very promising but they fell away because of a lack of confidence.

"But we are the Five Nations champions and we've go to carry that mantle with confidence and not be afraid of it. However, it is going to be much more difficult this year because our opponents know us and know what to expect. We can't sneak up on them on the rails as we've done before. Our opponents will be waiting for us because they know what happened last season."

McGeechan faces a challenging task in satisfying the demand for continued success and says he realises he has taken over a Scotland team who have benefited enormously from the World Cup.

"We came out of the World Cup in good shape because there's now a greater understanding in the squad of what we want to do and what we have to work on. We will try to maintain the confidence we showed against the All Blacks," he said.

"We shouldn't be afraid of putting our game on the line. It's not a bad game when it's played well."

Scotland will go into the championship without their World Cup captain Gary Armstrong, their former rugby league centre Alan Tait and their dependable tighthead prop Paul Burnell.

Also missing are winger Cammie Murray and flanker Peter Walton, both of whom require surgery to treat medium-term injuries.

Into the squad have come capped players Mattie Stewart, the Northampton prop, and Andy Nicol the former Bath scrumhalf and youngster Alan Bulloch, the brother of hooker Gordon Bulloch.

Looking beyond the Italy game McGeechan believes his side's home game against France will be the hardest match of the championship.

"What we want to do is to get off on the front foot in our first two games and then come to Murrayfield for the match against France with a feeling of momentum behind us.

"France showed what they can do in the World Cup. I expect that under their new coach Guy Laporte they will be playing very differently more importantly with more discipline" predicted McGeechan.

The championship, will reach its climax in April, when Scotland, after visiting Cardiff, play England at Murrayfield.

"It's a Sunday game so it should be a different atmosphere.

"In many ways it is back to what the championship used to be like when the Calcutta Cup match provided its culmination" said McGeechan.

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