The bigger they come, the harder they fall. That, in a nutshell, is Italy wing Monty Ioane’s approach to locking horns with Duhan van der Merwe and his confident band of Scots on Saturday.

Scotland’s 6ft 4in powerhouse has been in stunning form thus far in the Six Nations, following up an opening week double against Wales with a Calcutta Cup hat-trick for the ages.

A controversial defeat to France between those fixtures means that Scottish hopes of having a slim shot at their first-ever title depends on doing a job under the Roman sunshine at a sold-out Stadio Olimpico.

Van der Merwe will undoubtedly be relied on as a game-breaking threat once again, but his opposite number told Scotland Rugby News that he is ready for the fight.  

“He’s a class player, a big man who is very threatening with the ball in hand,” Ioane said.

“I’ve never really been worried about going up against another player, regardless of what they’ve done or how good they are. Only because for me it’s an opportunity to prove myself against these guys, which is always exciting for me.

READ MORE: Italy vs Scotland: The key battles and important stats ahead of Rome battle

“It’s not going to be easy. As long as we can stick to our defensive system, we tend to keep the ball away from the wingers. I guess I’ve just got to get up in his face and take away the space that he likes.

“I’m not really worried about this week’s challenge. I just hope we can put on a performance against Scotland for the home fans.”

Scotland’s recent form has put tails up around Murrayfield as they eye at least a best-ever runners-up finish, but a capacity crowd in Rome will have plenty of reason for optimism.

Italy took a half-time lead over England at the Olimpico on the opening weekend and left with a losing bonus point thanks to Ioane’s stunning solo score from the halfway line with the final play of the game.

Although they subsequently suffered a chastening loss to Ireland in Dublin, the Azzurri then claimed a draw in France last time out that was the width of the post from being a historic win, Paolo Garbisi’s late kick heartbreakingly striking the upright.

“What makes it frustrating is that game was there for the taking,” Ioane said.

“Not to say that it’s on Paolo, because that wasn’t the only opportunity in the game that we could have executed, there were many more opportunities that we created ourselves, but it was just simple errors that let us down.

“We will take it; it is better than losing. But we were so close to winning that game, it was just small margins as it always has been, like against England.”

“It’s definitely a bigger positive that we’ve taken out of it,” he added.

“There was a small negative about it, but just out of frustration. It’s definitely given the boys a lot of confidence, but at the same time we’ve got to stay grounded and just stick to our principles and understand that we have to keep chipping away at these things and eventually, once we come away from all those small things that hurt us, the results will start to show.”

Scotland Rugby News:

Home advantage can count for a lot in the Six Nations, but Italy’s long-suffering fans have had to wait 11 long years since they last won in Rome, against Ireland in 2013.

There have been plenty of hard luck stories along the way, including an opening day 27-24 defeat to England that marked their closest-ever losing margin in the fixture and, according to Ioane, a real missed opportunity.

While there has been notable improvement in Italian rugby in recent years, with a young team achieving home wins over Australia and Wales in 2022 and running France and Ireland close in Rome last year, Ioane believes it’s time to set the bar higher than brave defeats.

“The boys were quite pleased with the result [against England] but at the same time, we were disappointed in ourselves because it was a game for the taking,” he said.

“We scored more tries than them, we scored three and they scored two, we just gave away way too many penalties which obviously hurt us.  

“We had a discussion that we can’t always be content with almost beating teams or coming close because it’s happened one too many times.

“There were times in the Six Nations last year where they almost won. From these small margins you can see that the gap is closing, which you can see from the outside, that Italy is progressing.

“But we just couldn’t accept the fact that the game was there for the taking. We are our own worst enemy sometimes. We can score amazing tries, from set piece, we have it all. But it’s small things like giving away a simple penalty or sticking in the game.”