Opening weekend has traditionally been a weak point for Scotland in the Six Nations. In the last 18 tournaments, Scotland have won two opening games, one in 2006, and most recently in 2017. Last year Scotland travelled to Cardiff on opening weekend and were comprehensively beaten. Two tries from Leigh Halfpenny led to a 34 – 7 win for the Welsh against an optimistic Scotland. The Scots were flying high after an impressive Autumn, coming within inches of a win against New Zealand but were humbled by an impressive Wales. There is a similar level of optimism this year but Scotland have had their troubles with the Italians in the past.
Last year Scotland travelled to Rome, with most expecting a win but were given quite the scare. Tommy Allan put on a clinic at fly-half, and Jake Polledri burst through the Scottish defensive line at will, but the fairytale was put to bed by the ever-reliable Greig Laidlaw, who kicked a penalty to save the day and make it 27-29 in favour of the visitors.
In fact, Italy’s last win in the championship came in Edinburgh four years ago. Scotland failing to turn up led to the visitors taking a three point victory. Scotland in Murrayfield has now become a fearsome prospect; Scotland have not lost a game in Murrayfield in the Six Nations since a 9-15 loss to England in 2016.
Scotland are much stronger these days, and injuries are no longer the cause for concern they once were. Sean Maitland misses out this weekend through injury, as does Jonny Gray, but Blair Kinghorn and Grant Gilchrist have come in in place. Notably Glasgow centre Sam Johnson has been handed a debut, after missing out on a Test appearance through injury in the autumn. Scotland also have two debutants on the bench. Leicester hooker Jake Kerr will be in line to make his debut, as will Newcastle Falcons’ Gary Graham, who has returned from his reconnaissance mission with the England squad this time last year.
Italy have two big names missing from their squad, Full-back Matteo Minozzi will not be dazzling us with his dancing feet this year, as he has not recovered from an ACL injury. Gloucester’s Jake Polledri will not bash from the back row this year, he also misses out through injury.
Sergio Parisse is in line to break the record for Six Nations appearances, going one ahead of Brian O’Driscoll. There will be a lot of eyes on Parisse this weekend. A less than stellar display in last years tournament led to calls for him to be dropped. Italy are not the one-man-team they used to be, and, whisper it, but may be better off without the man who led them so well in previous years. A certain line from The Dark Knight comes to mind “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Regardless of nationality, everyone watching will hope that Parisse is back to his best, in what will probably be his last Six Nations.
The Scotland hype train has left the station; a win at the Murrayfield fortress this weekend is likely for Toonie’s men, but they will need to have their wits about them, Conor O’Shea has been doing great work and will be improved since last year.
Prediction; Scotland by 10
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn , Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw ; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson .
Replacements: Jake Kerr, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Gary Graham, Josh Strauss, Ali Price, Adam Hastings, Chris Harris
Italy: Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Castello, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, David Sisi, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Guglielmo Palazzani, Ian McKinley, Edoardo Padovani.
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.
He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.
After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).
The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.
She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.
Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.
However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.
This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.
The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.
These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.
Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.
As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.
Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:
Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Jones names squad for training camp
England will begin preparations for their four home Autumn Nations Series fixtures in November during the camp. The squad will meet in Richmond on Sunday 2 October and train at Twickenham Stadium.
First call-ups for camp include Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles and Saracens’ Hugh Tizard, both players having previously appeared for England U20s.
Manu Tuilagi and Sam Simmonds are back in the squad following injury and there are returns for Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Tom Pearson and David Ribbans.
England face Argentina in the first of their four matches at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 6 November (2.15pm KO). They will then host Japan on Saturday 12 November (3.15pm KO), followed by New Zealand on Saturday 19 November (5.30pm KO). Their final match is against South Africa on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).
“With a year to go to the Rugby World Cup, this is a big opportunity for players to come in and impress,” said Jones. “We want them to show real energy and enthusiasm and that they want to be a part of this massive year.
“It doesn’t mean that those who have been left out won’t be considered for the Autumn Nations Series matches. We’ll be looking at club games, form and fitness and the door is left open for those players.
“We finished the Australia tour well. It was a fantastic experience, particularly for the younger players. We now have to start again, but we’ll build on what we’ve done there and continue that momentum.”
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 37 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 41 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 39 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 69 caps)
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 15 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 14 caps)
Tom Pearson (London Irish, uncapped)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 14 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)
Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 70 caps)
Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Willis (Wasps, 4 caps)
Henry Arundell (London Irish, 3 caps)
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)
Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 97 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)
Will Joseph (London Irish, 1 cap)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 42 caps)
Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 13 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 117 caps)
Unavailable for selection due to injury: Alfie Barbeary, Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, George Ford, Sam Jeffries, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson.
New governance structure agreed for rugby in Scotland
Scottish Rugby President Colin Rigby hailed a “significant milestone” for the game in Scotland when member clubs agreed a new governance structure at an online special general meeting last night.
The new structure, based on the recommendations on the Standing Committee on Governance (SCOG), sees the new Scottish Rugby Union (a company limited by guarantee) take on the responsibility for the oversight of the organisation’s main operating vehicle, Scottish Rugby.
It also will provide an oversight function to the organisation’s members.
Professor Lorne Crerar CBE, Interim Chair of the new Scottish Rugby Union, pledged to the SGM that “all the promises for a new, well-functioning governance system will absolutely be delivered.”
Professor Crerar also called on the membership to play its part in finding the “very best talent” to serve as “custodians” on the new company’s board.
Colin Rigby thanked members, SCOG, the Scottish Rugby Council and Scottish Rugby’s employees for their patience, while the new structure was arrived at.
He added: “This is a significant milestone in the history of the Scottish Rugby Union where all stakeholders now have clarity around governance, roles and responsibility.”
John Jeffrey remains chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board which will continue to oversee the day-to-day operational, commercial and executive functions of Scottish Rugby.
Earlier tonight, members voted unanimously to receive Scottish Rugby’s financial statements for 2021-22 at the second part of the organisation’s AGM.
During the period, overall revenue returned to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels at £57.9million, a rise of £5.5million from the previous year.
The accounts showed a deficit of £5.3 million on the base business, while the strategic investment from private equity partners CVC drove a gain on disposal of investment of £34.2million, bringing Scottish Rugby’s net surplus after tax to £29million for the year.
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