Wounded Scots will be ready for Six Nations battle, Italy coach warns
Italy coach Jacques Brunel, seen prior to their Six Nations rugby union match against France, at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on February 9, 2014 - by Thomas Samson
Scotland arrive in the Italian capital still smarting from a 20-0 reverse to arch-enemies England at Edinburgh's Murrayfield ground two weeks ago, a defeat which served only to stoke criticism of under-fire coach Scott Johnson.
Although the Scots are desperate for a face-saving win, Italy -- who succumbed to a narrow defeat in Wales (23-15) and then a heavier reverse to France (30-10) -- are in no mood for losing at the Olympic Stadium.
Prop Martin Castrogiovanni, who with No 8 Sergio Parisse will pick up an Italian record 104th cap, said: "We didn't have pressure on us when we played in Cardiff and then Paris.
"Now, we're at home and everyone expects us to win."
While captain Parisse and Castrogiovanni have both dismissed the significance of going one cap better than retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero, they are sure to be given a rousing welcome by the expected near-capacity crowd of 65,000.
Adding extra spice is the inclusion of former Scotland under-20 fly-half Tommaso Allan, who will pick up his sixth cap for the Azzurri when he starts at fly-half.
Whether his appearance riles the Scots enough to give an extra edge to their game remains to be seen, but having conceded a 34-10 defeat to Scotland last year Brunel is taking nothing for granted.
"Last year we conceded 34 points at Murrayfield, that's something we have to take into consideration," Brunel told reporters on Thursday.
"Recent results haven't been going Scotland's way, but they're one of the teams we seem to have most difficulty with. They have character and always play with determination. They will be tough opponents."
Scotland's convincing win last year, though, now seems a distant memory with the knives out for Johnson after his side conceded nearly 50 points and scored a mere six during heavy defeats by Ireland and England.
The 20-0 Calcutta Cup loss at Murrayfield two weeks ago was the first time since 1978 the Scots had failed to score a point in a match against England.
Johnson's repeated references to Scotland's "naive" play and argument that he wasn't taking the "easy" option by building a team for the future has sparked a furious reaction from fans, pundits and ex-players.
The knife was twisted further when Clive Woodward -- a thorn in Scotland's side both as an England player and coach -- claimed the current Dark Blue team would struggle to beat any of the 12 clubs in the English Premiership.
- 'Got to do better' -
Australian Johnson has refused to buckle, but admitted the only sure-fire way to silence the doubters was by improved results on the pitch.
"At the end of the day, we have got to do better. The best way to close critics' mouths is to perform."
Johnson has made three changes, all in the pack, for Saturday's game.
Scott Lawson replaces Ross Ford after his fellow hooker's erratic line-out throwing display against England, while giant lock Richie Gray returns to the second row in place of Tim Swinson.
Johnson's decision to drop David Denton -- one of the few Scots to have impressed this season -- and start Johnnie Beattie at No 8, however, raised eyebrows.
Although Brunel would savour an Italian win, the Frenchman said he would be happier if Italy exorcise a major demon -- managing to keep command of games.
"We still have to learn how to really take command of games when we're in a position to do so," he added.
"Against Wales we conceded too many points early on and against France we created chances without being able to finish them off, although that can also be seen in a positive light.
"Right now, I'm pretty happy with what I've seen over our two games so far. We've had plenty of possession and positive play, but when it comes to keeping control we have improvements to make."