World Cup: Elland Road games key to aspirations of Scotland and Italy

Scotland's Henry Pyrgos.
Scotland's Henry Pyrgos.
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Head coach Vern Cotter has told his Scotland squad to forget about winning their World Cup group for now and instead concentrate on making sure they do not slip up against the United States.

The Dark Blues overcame their first hurdle in Pool B when they crushed Japan 45-10 in Gloucester on Wednesday.

Dodging that banana skin just four days after the Brave Blossoms stunned the world with victory over South Africa – and collecting a bonus point with it – was just the start Cotter was looking for.

Scotland have now moved on to Leeds, where they face the US tomorrow, in confident mood having leapt to the top of their section.

But Cotter is refusing to get carried away. Asked if the Scots were capable of qualifying for the quarter-finals as pool winners, the Kiwi said: “Oh we are getting ahead of ourselves once again. I respect our opponents too much to be predicting anything. We’re fully focused on trying to put in a good performance in two days’ time.

“We’re not on the paddock yet. The game starts on Sunday and we need to be ready for that.

“The players need to be 100 per cent committed and play our best rugby. Then we’ll see what happens after that.”

With just four days’ rest between the first two fixtures, Cotter has announced sweeping changes to his line-up ahead of facing the Eagles.

Henry Pyrgos will lead out the team at Elland Road as he takes over both the captaincy and scrum-half roles from Greig Laidlaw.

With nine other changes, including a first start for Glasgow number eight Josh Strauss, it could be perceived as a gamble against a US side Cotter claims have improved since they were beaten 24-6 by the Scots in Texas last year.

The first of two games at Elland Road this weekend is the Pool D clach between Italy and Canada, with the Azzurri’s Leonardo Ghiraldini warning his side should not over-hype their fixture against the North Americans.

Leicester hooker Ghiraldini admits Italy will be out of quarter-final contention if they suffer defeat to the Canucks.

The 30-year-old is refusing to brand Italy’s second World Cup encounter their biggest-ever match however, calling on Jacques Brunel’s men to keep their heads in battle.

Italy will again be without talismanic captain Sergio Parisse, the No 8 still battling to recover after suffering a haematoma on his calf.

“There are four matches and we can’t be saying that this is the match of our lives,” said Ghiraldini.

“We know after the match against France that if we want to qualify we have to win.”

Canada were overwhelmed 50-7 by Ireland in their World Cup opener and the Canucks now seek a victory for a tournament foothold.

All-time leading points-scorer James Pritchard, of Bedford Blues, is back despite missing out on initial selection.