Gregor Townsend: Glasgow Warriors players will be key to thwart the ambitious Azzurri

ITALY have come on leaps and bounds since they first joined the RBS 6 Nations Championship in 2000.

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Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend takes his team to Zebre on Sunday
Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend takes his team to Zebre on Sunday

They showed once again that they are at home in this company when they defeated France in Rome in their opening game in this year's tournament. The Azzurri have a lot of strength throughout their team and they are dangerous on the counter attack.

I think they gave warning of how far they have come with their play in the Autumn Internationals against Australia and New Zealand.

I believe they are now one of the top teams in the Six Nations and that Scotland have their work cut out against them at Murrayfield this weekend.

In Sergio Parisse, their captain, they have a world class No.8. He is strong in the tackle and is great at offloading the ball. I like their scrum-half Edoardo Gori, a good counter- attacker, and their stand-off Luciano Orquera, of Zebre, is also dangerous.

But Scotland, comfortably beaten 38-18 by England at Twickenham in their opener, will relish getting back to Murrayfield for the first of their three consecutive home games.

Scott Johnson and the boys have a bit of work to do, in contact areas especially, but I am sure they will make massive improvements.

They have to put the visitors under pressure defensively and try to create try-scoring opportunities with turnover ball and on the counter attack. The Scotland back three – our own Stuart Hogg especially – showed at the weekend that they can do damage if they get time and space with the ball in hand.

Stuart combined well with club-mate Sean Maitland for his try in the second half which was created in their own 22. They are capable of scoring very good tries.

It was a great couple of days for the neutral in the Six Nations at the weekend. All three of the games – Wales v Ireland, England v Scotland and Italy v France – were full of attacking rugby.

Hopefully, this weekend will see more of the same – with, of course, a Scotland victory over Italy at the end of it.

There is also club action at the weekend. Glasgow have a RaboDirect PRO12 match against Zebre in Italy on Sunday and we are looking to get a win at the start of a very important spell of games.

Some of our guys have not played in two weeks so it will be hard. But we had a good training session with the Scotland Club XV at Murrayfield this week.

We have got a couple of lads, Jon Welsh and Peter Murchie, back from the Scotland squad for this one plus our Scotland A boys return.

They had a fantastic result against England A last Friday. There is a lot of confidence there. These guys will also want to stake a claim for promotion to the full squad. That is good for us as if we are successful in the run of matches we have coming up in the PRO12 then it will put us in a strong position.

Yes, we don't have our internationals for four games. But that is an accepted part of any Northern Hemisphere league at this stage in the season. The way I look at it is that it gives players who have been training hard and not getting a game a chance to show what they are capable of.

With the quality of squad we have got there have been some very good players who have not featured. They will be hungry to perform at a high standard.

We have used 43 players at the Glasgow Warriors this season and I would expect that number to get closer to 50 in the coming weeks.

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