GREGOR Townsend has led the tributes to Massimo Cuttitta, the former Scotland assistant coach, who has died aged 54. The Italian, who was scrum coach to the national team for six years from 2009, died on Sunday with Covid-19 complications.

Cuttitta’s mother died two days before him, also after contracting Covid-19. They are survived by Massimo’s twin brother Marcello.

“This is such sad news, and my thoughts go out to Massimo’s family at this tragic time for them,” Scotland coach Townsend said yesterday on the SRU website. “Mas was a lovely man who connected really well with players and fellow coaches, building lasting relationships with a huge number of people in Scottish rugby and throughout the world.

“His passion and expertise made a game-changing impact at improving the scrummaging of the national team and both of our pro teams. He developed a strong bond with his beloved front-row forwards, who I’m sure will be immensely grateful for having met and worked with him. Rest in peace Massimo.”

After beginning to play rugby while at school in South Africa, the twins joined L’Aquila in their homeland in the late 1980s. Both soon graduated to the national team, with winger Marcello going on to win 54 caps, while Massimo, a prop, won 70.

The two were influential figures throughout a period which saw Italian rugby in general, and the Azzurri in particular, make significant progress. It culminated in admission to the Six Nations, and Massimo played in Italy’s first game in the expanded Championship, the home win over Scotland in 2000.

Having moved into coaching shortly after that historic victory, Massimo was recruited by Edinburgh to be their coaching consultant in 2005. Although he moved on to Scotland the following year, he continued to work with the front-row players at Glasgow Warriors as well as Edinburgh.

“Absolutely gutted to hear of the passing of our good friend Massimo Cuttitta,” Shade Munro, formerly Townsend’s assistant coach at Glasgow, wrote on Twitter. “He was an absolutely fabulous character and an excellent coach. Everyone, to a man, loved working with him at Glasgow Warriors. He will be very sorely missed.”

Former Edinburgh and Scotland prop Allan Jacobsen was among many other ex-players to pay tribute. “This guy was one of the greatest men I’ve ever met,” he wrote on Facebook. “I grew up idolizing him and was lucky enough to have him as a coach, mentor and more than anything a friend. Biggest influence on my rugby career by a long way.”