If Scottish fans thought they felt a gut-punch of disappointment at Murrayfield last weekend, it was nothing compared to what the home fans were going through over in Rome.  

Expectations were high ahead of the visit of Wales. Higher than they had been for years.

But chances of a first Six Nations home win in a decade evaporated in front of an exasperated 61,000-strong crowd as the Azzurri squandered countless chances and Wales pounced on theirs.

The 29-17 defeat left Italy staring down the barrel at an eighth consecutive wooden spoon despite a campaign where their bold performances have helped restore credibility and faith in the future.  

“We created a lot of opportunities against Wales, we just couldn’t finalise them,” Italy full-back Tommaso Allan tells Herald Sport.

“We had 11 line breaks and beat 38 defenders, but we couldn’t finish off the good stuff we did. We started slowly again, gave Wales some easy points at the start.

“We fought our way back, but it slipped out of our hands at the end. It’s extremely frustrating. It took us a day to get over it.”

Allan, a former Scotland Under-20 international, started at full-back in Rome and will again in Edinburgh on Super Saturday, with the electric Ange Capuozzo ruled out with a shoulder injury.

It has been 10 years since Allan swapped the thistle for the tricolour, and he is now the most experienced player in the Azzurri squad by a distance.

Allan won his 70th cap against Wales, 25 more than the next most-capped player Sebastian Negri, and he’s enjoying a senior role - despite not celebrating his 30th birthday until next month.

“I’m the grandad! I try to give as much input as I can to younger boys,” he says.

“I think it’s important for the guys with a bit more experience to help when things aren’t quite clicking. I’ve been doing that as much as I can. I don’t want to overdo it, but everybody has a role in the team and mine is to help out the younger boys, give them some good guidance.”

The Harlequins man has showcased his versatility during this tournament, starting the first two games against France and England at fly-half while Paolo Garbisi was recovering from injury.

And despite the disappointment of coming away with just one losing bonus point from four games, he has learned over the last decade that the Six Nations always gives you a second chance.

“That’s the good thing, you can right your wrongs the following week. We’ve got a really good opportunity to show up against Scotland but it’s not going to be an easy game,” Allan says.

He adds: “It would be big for us to get a win, to put a cherry on top of this tournament. We have played very well and been unlucky at times with results and some of the things that have happened in games. It would be a huge morale boost for the whole team and country to get this win.”

The difference this year is that Allan and his team-mates don’t have to look far for an encouraging precedent.

Going into Super Saturday 12 months ago, the Azzurri were also on the brink of a whitewash and facing a difficult away trip – only to stun Wales with a victory in Cardiff that ended their seven-year winless run in the tournament.

Unlike the rest of his team-mates, Allan also knows how it feels to win at Murrayfield.

He is the only remaining survivor of the side that stunned the Scots in 2015 in what was their last tournament win until the heroics of Cardiff.

But the utility back has cast that memory aside to focus on more recent history.

“That was a long time ago now,” he says of the Edinburgh victory.

“We spoke about how we lost four games last year and then went to Cardiff and won. It’s the same thing now – we’ve lost four games and we’re going away from home.

“We’ve done it before. We just spoke about how the last year we’ve developed, and one game doesn’t define us. That one loss against Wales doesn’t define who we are.

“It’s about keeping positive, following our structure and game plan. We know if we execute the final passes then we’re in it, and anything can happen at the weekend.”

Regardless of the result on Saturday, there is newfound optimism in Italian rugby thanks to the growth of Kieran Crowley’s team over the last year.

During that period, they’ve beaten Wales, Samoa and Australia and pushed the top two sides in the world, France and Ireland, all the way in Rome.    

“It’s nice to see there is a project, an identity we’re creating. It’s not finished yet, there’s still a lot to work on, but everybody is on board with what we do and enjoys the way we’re playing,” says Allan.

Pats on the back for encouraging performances aren’t enough, though.

“We want to win, that’s for sure,” he adds.

“We know you’re not going to win every game, so as long as our performance gets better, results will start coming.

“This identity we’ve built is only a year old, since we started working together with this style of play. It does take longer for the whole team to be on the same wavelength.

“Our performances give us a lot more confidence - if we had lost and not performed, that’s a different story.”

One of the elements of Italy’s game that has encouraged Allan the most is how they have overturned a years-old Azzurri stereotype – that they fade in the final quarter of Test matches.

Crowley’s side have entertained this year with a high-risk, heads-up, attacking brand of rugby, but it has been slow starts rather than sluggish finishes that have cost them.

Ten of the 16 tries that Italy have conceded in the 2023 Six Nations have come in the first 30 minutes of matches – but Allan sees two ways of looking at the alarming statistic.

“Our mindset to play a good brand of rugby. You will get mistakes,” he says.

“But when we make mistakes, we need to transition better and we can’t let tries or points be scored after every mistake we make.”

He adds: “The positive thing is we’re winning the second half against pretty much every team. We’re playing very well in the second half, which is something that used to be the opposite with Italy – it was to start well for 60 minutes and then for the last 20 you fall off a cliff. Now it’s the opposite.

“This is a better problem to have than the previous problem, it’s a bit easier to manage. If we do start well, we know we’ve got the fitness, the skills to execute in the second half. It’s an exciting thing to look at – fix this first 20, which we will, and the rest of the game will take care of itself.”

There will be no shortage of familiar faces lining up for the opposition come Saturday, with three of Allan’s former Under-20s team-mates – George Turner, Jonny Gray and Ali Price – in Scotland’s matchday squad.

Allan played for Scotland at U17, U18 and U20 levels but was eligible for Italy as well due to having a Scottish father and Italian mother, while his uncle John Allan is a former Scotland international.

“It’s nice playing against your mates. There will be a bit of banter on the field during the game and then we’ll have a beer or two after,” says Allan.

Another of Allan’s former U20 team-mates will be conspicuous by his absence for Scotland – fly-half Finn Russell.

But an injury to the influential playmaker – not to mention key lineout operator Richie Gray and star full-back Stuart Hogg - hasn’t had the Italians popping the celebratory prosecco just yet.

“I know the players replacing them are still very good, we can’t be complacent just because they’ve lost Finn, Richie and Stuart,” Allan says.

“Other players will offer different threats. We’re more focusing on our game and ourselves. We know that if we put in a good performance, we can win up there.”

Heads may have dropped in the Eternal City last week, but Italy are ready to finish with a flourish once again.