Italy vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2016 RBS 6 Nations Clash

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2016

Italy vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2016 RBS 6 Nations Clash

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    Without a point to show between them, Italy and Scotland will collide in Rome on Saturday hoping to move up the 2016 RBS Six Nations standings and away from Wooden Spoon contention.

    Vern Cotter's men travel to the Italian capital after falling short in Cardiff as they dropped to a 27-23 defeat at Wales' hands, while the Azzurri were blown away by England after losing 40-9 in Week 2.

    It's often been this fixture that dictates who finishes at the base of the standings, with these two teams accounting for 14 of the 16 Wooden Spoons handed out to date.

    Both teams will hold out hope of a far more positive finish yet, however, and we break down the biggest battles set to unfold on Saturday.

1. Michele Campagnaro vs. Mark Bennett

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    Michele Campagnaro and Mark Bennett play their parts as perhaps the most penetrative powers for Italy and Scotland, respectively, creating a grand sense of hype ahead of their Week 3 clash on Saturday.

    And Glasgow Warriors star Bennett is bringing a great deal of confidence to the Stadio Olimpico after he stated Scotland's last three fixtures of the tournament are theirs for the taking, per BBC Sport: "The belief is still there amongst the squad. We all know we can go on and win the next three games. There is no reason why we can't. It is just about taking that first step."

    Born just five weeks apart, Campagnaro, 22, and Bennett, 23, have a long way to run before either hit their playing peaks, but both centres already shoulder big responsibilities in their squads to create openings.

    Bennett struggled to make a major impact against Wales and failed to make a clean break, while Campagnaro was one of the Azzurri's few bright sparks in their humiliating defeat to England, but the scales are far more evenly weighted this weekend.

2. Francesco Minto vs. John Barclay

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    John Barclay's run in the Scotland XV will continue this Saturday as the Scarlets-based flanker attempts to match the defensive display he laid on against Wales where he numbered 11 tackles, the most of any player on his team.

    Lining up opposite at blindside is Francesco Minto, another defensively oriented back-rower who also tends to rank among Italy's most prolific tacklers, albeit perhaps not with the same panache as Barclay.

    If previous meetings between these two sides are anything to go by, spectators could be in for a close affair in Rome with handling mistakes a possibility and stoppages in play common, bringing the back-rowers to the fore.

    Both Barclay and Minto will need a full set of lungs if they're to get in the running expected of them in a fixture that could well come down to long phases of forward-focused play.

3. Kelly Haimona vs. Finn Russell

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    The injured Carlo Canna drops out of Italy's squad for the visit of Scotland, and Kelly Haimona comes in at fly-half in a move that could have a significant impact on Jacques Brunel's tactics this Saturday.

    The New Zealand-born utility has found more comfort at centre representing Zebre, and his approach to the Scots may feature a more run-heavy programme, not to mention the fact he isn't among the most reliable kickers.

    Haimona has won just twice in his eight Italy Tests, once on his debut against Samoa in November 2014 and again in February 2015—his only appearance to date against Scotland.

    Scotland No. 10 Finn Russell is more established as Cotter's go-to man at fly-half these days, and the confidence he's shown glimpses of thus far in the tournament could make him the favourite to glance this head-to-head.

4. Sergio Parisse vs. David Denton

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    The fixture may change, but the work never gets easier for Italy captain Sergio Parisse, who has again featured as his team's jack of all trades throughout their Six Nations run thus far.

    The problem with Parisse taking on such a vast workload in the international setup is that he rarely gets the chance to dazzle in any particular field, acting as the catalyst and the executor of moves all at the same time.

    David Denton's responsibility in the Scotland pack is not quite as great, and he'll be the man merely attempting to pick and drive his way around the Italian fringes while hoping Parisse isn't there to meet him.

    It's a distinct possibility, too, when considering No. 8 Parisse has averaged only five tackles per game in the tournament so far, albeit still as effective as ever when acting as a linchpin for his outfit in attack.

5. Mattia Bellini vs. Tommy Seymour

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    TalkSPORT's Andrew McKenna was in awe as to how Scotland winger Tommy Seymour ended up on the losing side against Wales in Week 2 following a heroic display in Cardiff, shining as one of the visiting outfit's strongest players throughout.

    The Glasgow man's strength under the high ball was exemplary, and 22-year-old Petrarca winger Mattia Bellini has a struggle on his hands if he's to match Tom James' impressive performance in that fixture.

    With just two caps to his name, Bellini is the latest in a line of young Italian wingers stepping off the factory line and into the national team, showing plenty of promise, but perhaps lacking in Test-level nous.

    If Scotland's back line can get up to speed and crowd Italy in midfield, Seymour may find he has space to operate against the budding Bellini.

    All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum.

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