We worried that Scotland wouldn’t show up, and they started like they were still asleep as impressive Italian winger Sarto scampered over for a converted try inside 2 minutes.
Scotland settled into it pretty quickly after that with some excellent offloading from Matt Scott almost putting Seymour through. Last week the pass was behind him but this week he over-ran it. Minutes later Denton’s accuracy was spot on though as he put Scott into space behind the Italian gain line and Scott danced round the straggling defenders for another great try. The two combined soon after as Denton flailed at Scott’s chip at the line. He missed but it caused enough chaos for Laidlaw to pop the ball out wide to Lamont for Scotland’s second try.
Scotland had the edge when the ball went through the hands even if both sides were playing with enterprise in the sunshine, but Italy with Castrogiovanni were in control at the scrums. A mullering of Alasdair Dickinson saw the Italians awarded a penalty try by referee Leighton Hodges to keep the scores close at 17-17 and a further penalty each meant they went in tied at half time 20-20.
Scotland’s midfield of Scott and Dunbar had made a lot of ground, and Lamont and Swinson battered holes at every opportunity. The Italian centres too displayed some class while Di Bernardo was a reassuring presence at 9, kicking his goals well.
Could the second half be as good as the first or would it tighten up much as the Lions first test had? Laidlaw and Di Bernardo exchanged penalties to keep things even and set the tone. There would be perhaps three key battles: Castro vs Dickinson in the scrum, Laidlaw vs Di Bernardo with the boot and everyone else vs Sergio Parisse. Honours about even all round except for the first one where Italy had the clear edge in the set piece.
Tim Visser, who has had a low profile all tour, came off the bench with half an hour to play looking for work and after a few half chances to make an impact, he put Matt Scott under the posts with an offload out the back door. However the TMO and referee Hodges ruled it was forward to leave the game tied. Visser hasn’t had it all his way since the summer tour last year and it will be interesting to see how he responds now Seymour, Murchie and Duncan have caps, especially with Nikki Walker and Jack Cuthbert pitching up at Edninburgh next season. Big competition for back three places, even before you take into account our Lions.
As the bench emptying began and with Castrogiovanni off there was a slight lull as the cagey business of winning an international reared its head. Both sides probed and the nice offloading continued with defence looking fairly sound on both sides. Heathcote was replaced by Laidlaw as Pyrgos came on, with the young Bath man looking like he may have taken a knock, but he had emerged with some credit having defended and moved the backline well.
Italy moved ahead with another penalty as the level of niggle raised and Di Bernardo slotted another one minutes later. Italy were quietly building a lead and although Scotland still looked better with the ball in hand a converted try rapidly became the only option.
You know how good we are chasing the game, so a sustained period of Scots pressure on the Italian 22 saw no greater reward than Greig Laidlaw getting a wee kick in the head from Parisse as he clambered over a ruck.
It was 23-29 with ten minutes to play as Fraser Brown got his first cap, and the Scots kept the pressure up but Italy were getting the decisions. It had all the hallmarks of another one that got away, especially with scrums eating up the clock – even if the Scots were now competing at that set piece.
As the clock wound down Scotland had one chance to score the try that would win it, but where some extra final gasping effort would have perhaps seen them home, Scotland did not look liks they had enough left in the tank to break through a contracting Italian defence.
No one told Al Strokosch.
Near heroic against South Africa and relatively quiet this week, the Big Stroker stepped up as Scotland hammered the Italian line and that man Parisse slipped out of the line in defence. A gap behind him opened up and the blindside playing at openside slid through it to dot down. Scotland had got out of jail against Italy again.
They should have won last week but didn’t; this week it’s debatable but they ground out a win nevertheless.
SR Blog Man of the Match: Matt Scott. Give him a couple of years and this lad could be truly great. Marshalled the defence, broke the line at every opportunity and offloaded superbly as he did this week. Having nearly lost out to Pete Horne in the first game of the Six Nations, he’s turned fortune around and has been Scotland’s player of the tour and I can’t wait to see him in a Scotland shirt in the autumn. Honourable mentions to Swinson and Strokosch.