Mcinally: Memories of Massimo mean a lot to me

Mcinally: Memories of Massimo mean a lot to me

There’s a lot of resonance behind the trophy Scotland and Italy compete for.

The Cuttitta Cup is named after Massimo Cuttitta, the former Italy captain and Scotland scrum coach who passed away three years ago. When I was transitioning from the back row to hooker, he was such an influential figure for me. The level of care he showed and the time he gave up teaching me the dark arts of scrummaging were so beneficial to my career, at a point when I was quite lost in that space.

I’ll always remember Massimo saying to me he’d rather get stabbed than be in a scrum that went backwards. That opened me up to his mindset and I realised I could tap into all his knowledge and emotion. He gave me a lot of direction, which I’ll forever be grateful for.

I was chatting to some of the team this week about the recent Calcutta Cup match. All the guys were thrilled, of course, but there's a different feeling now compared to, say, 2018, when we beat England for the first time in a decade. Back then, the celebrations were huge, and the boys were out celebrating until 5am. But this time was very different. It’s been four wins in a row for Scotland against England, so although the rivalry is still massive, the victory is not as big a deal as it used to be. Scotland expected to win - and delivered, which was the most pleasing thing.

I like the way the players took their chances after the disappointment against France, when the execution and ambition - particularly in the second half - wasn’t where it should be. When the team did their review of the England game, I don’t think there would have been too many instances where they would have thought they’d missed any opportunities. They capitalised on England’s mistakes and made them pay for some pretty dodgy defending.

Scotland will travel this weekend as clear favourites, but we cannot underestimate Italy. The game is in Rome, and I don’t believe they will fear Scotland. They’ve been playing some good rugby, and the way the match in Lille ended encapsulated the whole narrative around their team: they just can’t quite seem get over that winning line.

And while I say they won’t fear Scotland, they’ll also be fully aware they haven’t beaten them since 2015. Belief comes from positive experiences and Scotland have plenty of these against Italy to draw on in recent times. But knowing this group well, there will be no complacency. From my experience, the forward battle is the key. Times we have dominated the set piece we have won comfortably. The times we haven’t, well, we haven’t.

Scotland have a couple of injury woes to contend with, no greater than the loss of Sione Tuipulotu. But naturally one player’s injury is another player’s opportunity. You have the obvious choice of Cam Redpath who impresses every time he wears the dark blue of Scotland. I’d love to see Stafford McDowall come in. He’s been playing at a consistently high level for Glasgow this season and this week’s match against Italy is a perfect time to see what he’s got to offer at Test level.

If I was an Italian rugby fan, I’d be hugely encouraged by what’s coming. Everybody is talking about their U20s, and rightly so: the future is bright. Whether it’s this year or next, Italy just need to find that winning form. The talent is coming through, and some of it is already on show.

Italy’s back three is made up of some very dangerous players: Ange Capuozzo at fullback and Monty Ioane and Tommaso Menoncello on the wings. Scotland will know they’ve got a real attacking threat to deal with - one which caused England a lot of problems.

However, for all this Italian team is showing signs of cohesion and killer instinct, it is their lack of consistency that has always been the issue. One week they can be extremely competitive for 80 minutes and the following week they hugely underperform. We will have to wait and see what team turns up in Rome on Saturday.

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