Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Italy 20-21 Scotland

Scott Lawson was at the heart of a much improved lineout
Scott Lawson was at the heart of a much improved lineout - pic © Al Ross

A sunny Stadio Olimpico was bathed in sunshine as this most crucial of tests kicked off, with both sides chasing a first win to get their tournament on track. For Scotland fans it was important to see a vast improvement from the second half against Ireland and the insipid display against England at Murrayfield two weeks ago.

A knock on from the kick-off was a less than inspiring sign, and gave us an early scrum to sound out referee Steve Walsh – preferred scrum input signal is a tap on the arse – who promptly penalised Low for collapsing.

More surprising were Scotland’s early lineout steals against the best set-piece in the tournament so far. A penalty gave them a set piece of their own for attacking platform which fizzled out when Seymour kicked ahead too long but it came from well retained quick line-out ball and some nice hit-up and pass out from the Scotland players.

Securing their own ball and Beattie, Lamont and Scott running some nice lines while Weir fed them rather than kicking, it was hopeful at least, with Scotland doing the basics well amidst the fiery passion of the home support.

Sadly the scrum was still a considerable weakness with the first three all coughing up a penalty on Low’s side, and the Scotland tighthead looking at the prospect of a card from the first ten minutes.

Italy’s first spell of possession was typical, with big ball carrying from Furno and Parisse and the spark of Luke Maclean. Italy knocked on the door during a penalty advantage, but then knocked it on instead and took the 3 points through Tommaso Allan.

Laidlaw sealed an entertaining opening quarter with a penalty of his own, as both sides threw the ball about in the Italian sunshine.

Scotland’s first attacking scrum went the way of the others as a jubilant Italian pack drove right over Moray Low as he tried to give Scott Lawson some means of hooking the ball. Allan missed the penalty kick, but the Scottish scrum was creaking badly and giving Italy a clear tactical focus even as Scotland were performing admirably in other areas.

They were attacking well through Wilson, Seymour and Beattie but as has been the usual story there was a penalty coughed up to snuff out the momentum. It was the same story moments later as Fusaro stole the ball and Weir streaked clean through with Lamont in support outside him. The flyhalf slipped on the turf and offloaded into an Italian chest to kill Scotland’s most promising attack. Having turned his defender, a simple pass would have sent Lamont for a clear scoring chance.

On the other hand Italy took their chance when it presented and it was Parisse and then – naturally – Allan who took advantage of a dubious scrum award from Walsh to seize the momentum going in to the break.

Despite the woes at scrum time – that saw Low replaced by Cross before half time – and too many penalties protecting ball at the contact, Scotland could at least take heart from much improved performances from Scott, Wilson, Gray, Hogg – basically everyone. There was a massive issue with discipline and the penalty count would need to be significantly reduced if Scotland were to regain any foothold in the match.

HT 11-3

High tension rugby matches tend to be decided in the ten minutes either side of half time by whoever raises their game, but with Italy winning the spell prior, in the spell after Scotland went through the phases and the hosts were content to soak it up. There was a refreshing lack of kicking and this gave Scotland plenty of ball to play with. Even as they fumbled it, Italy fumbled it right back and Fusaro was in there like a shot, proving his worth and earning a kickable penalty. Scotland’s increase in intensity and line speed was paying immediate dividends.

A scrum penalty for Scotland as Cross stabilised things (somewhat) saw Scotland kick for the corner, and batter at Italy for multiple phases. They were gaining ground slowly towards the 22 with Dunbar and Scott stepping up to carry ball, but ultimately ending in fumbles as usual. Laidlaw spurned three points again for a quick tap-and-go that Cross eventually knocked on.

It was tremendously frustrating to watch even if Italian mistakes gifted us chances to have another go.

The platform was leaps and bounds ahead of what we had seen so far in the tournament but it was still a high penalty count and those last-pass errors might cost Scotland dear.

Cross made up for his earlier error by combining well with the excellent Scott Lawson and then nice simple take and give from Scott and then Hogg put Dunbar round his man to sprint for the corner and the try that rejuvenated Scotland’s hopes.

Scotland continued an impressive (relative to Scotland rather than say the All Blacks) period of attack with Lawson, Cross, Hamilton and Gray all hitting up well and Scott and Dunbar at the heart of everything. The centres are starting to look like a real partnership in the making and combined with Lamont poor Allan can’t have known what hit him.

The renewed intensity was paying dividends and Weir was controlling the territory well but they were still behind on the scoreboard and Italy weren’t giving up even as the replacements gave them fresh legs. Luckily it was that man Dunbar who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck for a second time in the last half hour as he and Scott drove at the Italian line tirelessly. Cusiter’s willingness to break helped too, as he and Lamont combined to put Dunbar in the clear with Scott in support. He didn’t need him though, battering for the line with a defender clinging to him. Walsh went to the TMO for a hint of obstruction and some flat offloads, but they looked fine and the try was awarded to the joy of the travelling support.

Just to make things interesting Italy weren’t done either, hitting back straight away with a try from the determined Furno that levelled the score with ten to play. With Allan off, Orquera’s first touch was to kick the conversion and reclaim the lead. Which he did, to set Scottish nerves fluttering again.

Scotland continued to attack with Gray and Denton (on for Fusaro) carrying powerfully and Scott and Lamont still managing to make ground but they were threatening to come up agonisingly short, 2 points down with less than five minutes on the clock.

Scotland had one last attacking scrum to try and secure a penalty, a drop goal – anything and salvage a winning score from what had been a much improved performance. Losing it now after pulling themselves out of the fire would have done much deeper damage. Luckily Duncan Weir heard the call and took Cusiter’s pass and sent it superbly between the uprights to secure the win and the delight of his fellow players and fans.

SRBlog Man of the Match: Tough call between Alex Dunbar and Scott Lawson who worked ceaselessly in the loose and played no small part in a 100% lineout completion rate, but at the end of the day Dunbar’s driving runs and two tries carried Scotland over the line in the second half. Mention also to Duncan Weir who showed huge stones to drop the winning goal to seal a deserved win.

11 Responses

  1. Better but not good. I can’t see a performance like that being good enough to really challenge France and Wales in the final two rounds. Our attack was still very limp, there were multiple times where we went side to side and phase after phase making no progress, Beattie, Grant and the locks were carrying well, why weren’t they used more in the centre of the pitch? If we had tightened up there I think we could have had a much more comfortable win.

    On defence we were terrible, it seemed like every Italian player was able to make yards in contact, no matter who was hitting them. For Furno’s try Senatore must have shrugged off 4 or 5 very poor attempts at tackling.

    I’m still very much against Johnson, even with this win it didn’t look like there was much coherence in the team, given our weak attack and defence that seemed to come from players being unsure of what they were supposed to be doing in the match.

    1. I thought they were poor in the first half but good in the second when they were more aggressive in defence and finally foundd some incisive edge thanks to Scott, Dunbar and Lamont.

      I think Cus needs to come in for Laidlaw, the backline just looked so much sharper and the ball was moved with much more conviction. Low struggled and Cross will surely start against France. Not sure what the best blend in the backrow is, thought Fusaro had a couple of good steals but Wilson played much better and Denton played well when he came on. Beattie though is just a classy player.

      If France play as poorly as they did against Wales we have a chance against them.

    2. First win in Rome for 8 years… Won all our line outs and stole some of theirs, scored two tries and saw big improvements from almost every player… Not bad for 2 weeks since the worst Scotland performance I have ever seen…

  2. Nerve shredding stuff and you could see from the first half how skittish they were. Lots of poor decisions because of a total lack of confidence. Vast improvement in second half, quicker line speed but still falling off tackles and kicking needlessly. I wouldnt say Laidlaw was poor today just very very average. He seems unable to pass from the deck at the base of rucks, he never took the ball up once in the entire game he was on (as far as i could see) and his last act before being subbed was to dither about and let the italians steal our ball.

    I would disagree about Denton improving things when he came on, i didn’t see any improvement in our overall play at the breakdown, in fact, quite the reverse and yet again, he seems unable to stand up in the tackle, but that could be levelled at Wilson, Hamilton AND Denton. Much better once Low went off, clearly not up to international tighthead standards. Impressed with Gray but can someone please tell me why our players kept slipping on what appeared to be a very good surface? Wearing poser boots in fancy colours means f@@k all if you keep falling over because you aren’t wearing proper studs.

    Tweak this team a wee bit and we have the a 15 that can compete well with anybody. cotter needs to have a free hand though to employ his own men as coaches and not inherit the current dross backs and forwards coaches we are suffering from!

  3. Much much better all round, Lawson, Gray and Beattie justified their inclusion. I try not to criticise referees but I thought Walsh got a lot wrong as he always seems to against us. It’s a pity that it was halfway through the Six Nations before we realised our line speed wasn’t good enough. We were a much better team in the second half when that changed although we are still missing far too many tackles. The line out was very good, the scrum solid after Cross came on. I agree that Cusiter should start in the next game, his passing was quicker and he was more of a threat off the scrum area. I had doubts about Wilson and would still prefer Brown but he is an aggressive player who gets through a lot of work. Credit to Hamilton and Lamont who both kept their penalty count down. Apart from scrum half I would stick with the backs, I was particularly impressed with Weir, Scott and Dunbar. The only changes next time, bring in Cusiter and Cross.

  4. Thought the game was good, with Scotland slightly nudging Italy in 3 of the 4 quarters. Thrilled at the win – showed real character.
    Lawson played well as did Gray. Dunbar and Scott played a bit more intelligently than last week. Cracker of a drop goal. Coming of age for Weir.

  5. I felt for Moray Low. For example take a look at the scrums in the 15th/16th?? 19th and 25th minutes and see if you can tell me what Jim Hamilton’s right shoulder was doing because it certainly wasn’t in contact with Low’s arse who appeared to be taking the entire weight of the Italian scrum on his own

    1. Yes, Hamilton is at his end. Against Italy he played okay, but in my mind he is taking up space. He carries the ball when he is not needed and sits at the back of he ruck resting.

  6. Delighted that we got a win but I agree, we still have a long way to go. But after the horrid display against England I can’t help but think, maybe its not all doom and gloom.
    Scott and Dunbar really proved themselves today, granted Italy aren’t the best side, but if you can’t do it against Italy then you have no chance against the other teams.
    Lamont was ok, does what he usually does and puts dents in the defence. Gutted that Seymour didn’t get more of the ball, but thought Evans done well, especially in defence when he came on.
    Weir played fairly well and that dropgoal was a peach!
    Laidlaw was nothing special, the one time he got the ball away quickly Dunbar scored the first try. When Cusiter came on the tempo was raised and we looked far more threatening, come on SJ make the change!
    As for the forwards, Grant was better, Lawson was excellent,Cross was decent when he came on too (stabalised the scrum).
    Hamilton kept the penalty count down (thank goodness) and Gray was carrying the ball well.
    Thought Fusaro played well again and didn’t think that Denton made that big of an impact of the bench. Wilson improved for me this week and in my opinion Johnnie Beattie should be starting every week, excellent player!

    Improvement all round from the players in attack, still need to work on the defence more.
    At the end of the day a win is a win, and in Rome thats a hard thing to do.

  7. Whilst the win in Rome was a blessed relief, it’s time someone took the whole setup and squad to task.
    Some of us have been saying this for a decade now but Big Vern needs free reign when he arrives.
    Free reign to permanently drop our cosseted stars who can’t pass or catch or run a line or miss tackles.
    If we need to start from scratch then so be it.
    Because our boys in blue are playing poor schoolboy rugby and have been doing so for years now.
    Scotland in the last few years have no patience on the ball, no composure, little skill and even our set piece ball has disintegrated over the last few seasons.
    Watching a Scotland match then watching for example the eng ire match demonstrates the huge and widening gulf in skill and class between us and tier 1 nations.
    So I say again, if our international stars (I leave no one out) can’t demonstrate from now on they are willing to show us the basic skills that we all learned at school then they should be dropped. Permanently. And replaced with people who are willing to show at least the most basic level of skill.
    Harsh you might say.
    About time I’d reply.

  8. Quite a few of the squad stood up to be counted in the second half yesterday, Black Rabbit. I expect there was a lot of taking to task at half-time – from the coaching team and by the players themselves.

    The effect was a transformation in the second half in which – apart from going to sleep in defence having gone 18-13 up – many basic skills were on display, and in spades when it came to the backs trusting their skill and pace. One swallow doesn’t make etc etc, but coming back from 3-13 at half time in a patient, skilful and professional way was pretty impressive.

    I was lucky enough to be in the stadium, amongst thousands of Scots fans who responded to the second half turn round on the pitch. I’m absolutely convinced our reaction to that resurgence did a little bit for the spirit of the team on the field.

    The trick of course is to follow up with an even better performance v France next week, and then another one in Cardiff. Even if we achieve that it won’t wipe away the strategic issue of a tiny playing population, two pro clubs and some poor coaching in recent years. But it will put a smile back on supporters’ faces and give us all hope that we can make the best of the relative poverty of playing resources in Scotland.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion