Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Italy 13-34 Scotland

Finn Russell
Finn Russell - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

In the unfamiliar heat of Singapore, Scotland got Gregor Townsend’s tenure as Scotland head coach off to a flying start, at least in terms of tempo.

The opening quarter of the game was all Scotland, but despite this they couldn’t turn it into a try. With Hardie a late withdrawal and Wilson starting at 7, it was typical early tour stuff, at times more like an extended game of sevens with neither side able to whittle out any sort of continuity from this hot mess.

There was an early exchange of penalties between Finn Russell and Tomasso Allan in a game style that suited Russell, but as is often the case he took a while to settle and stop throwing impractical passes.

At 3-3, the Italians would probably have been reasonably satisfied after a half they hadn’t taken much out of, but then the Scottish half-backs finally grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. Ali Price scythed round the defence for the opening try which brought relief, while the second try was one of those moments of Russell wonder that make you forgive the passes to no-one. Almost.

Finding a little space opening up around half way, Russell carved a diagonal line through the Italian midfield then chipped into a huge space. The ball bounced high and unclaimed until Hoyland leapt up for it. It was recycled quickly by Price, and Russell mercilessly put another kick in behind, this time for the other wing Tim Visser. The Dutchman was indeed flying, and caught it in a dive at full stretch for a second try.

Russell took a clatter in the act of his second chip kick and with Horne adjudged unable to take the conversion by the officials, Duncan Taylor added another string to his considerable bow to smash it between the uprights.

Half-time: Italy 3-15 Scotland

Russell returned after half time with the early makings of a facial bruise to match the one Stuart Hogg may well have following his encounter with Conor Murray’s elbow. Scotland resumed their onslaught against Italy with a kick to the corner and a lineout drive that the Italians were powerless to stop. Ross Ford battered over at the back to get the try, only his third in international colours.

If that was a display of the grim superiority Scotland have held over Italy under Vern Cotter, the next try was right out of the Gregor Townsend playbook. With a man advantage after Dean Budd was sin-binned after repeated infringements, Scotland had possession close to the line. Russell carried close before popping it to Taylor who busted over the gain line before offloading to Hoyland, who in turn popped it to Russell who with the briefest of glances, offloaded out the back to that man Ford who ambled over from short range for his fourth try in 108 caps.

Regardless of the quality of defence, it was a great try by an energised Scotland team.

In terms of Italy’s attack, it was close to an hour before they had a real visit to Scotland’s 22 and despite the continuing harem scarum nature of the game, Scotland’s defence held firm.

Italy finally got a try with around 15 minutes to go, Campagnaro feeding off a Maxime Mbanda break and having more than enough to withstand a lightweight (read: hilarious unless it’s against the Wallabies) attempt at a tap tackle from Visser.

Italy were given a second yellow when Henry Pyrgos was dumped off the ball by Braam Steyn. Scotland’s scrum, which went well under the whip of both WP Nel and Zander Fagerson, gave them a solid platform and the ball was moved left, Pete Horne perhaps ignoring an overlap on that side but when it went back to the right wing, Duncan Taylor drew his man and Damien Hoyland was too quick for Sarto in the corner. Horne slotted a superb touchline conversion to put the game beyond all doubt.

Italy scored one further try through Angelo Esposito in the corner in the dying minutes, but by that point the game had been long over as a contest. Against Italy’s not-quite-first-choice XV, this was probably the sort of win that Townsend would have wanted and gives the right mix of satisfaction and things to work on ahead of the Australia test next weekend.

Referee: Paul Williams (NZRU)

Attendance: 8,734

SRBlog Man of the Match: Ross Ford had one of his best games and was rewarded with two tries, and John Barclay had a captain’s game in the 6 shirt. Ben Toolis ran the lineout brilliantly. Finn Russell had two superb touches – one the kick for Visser’s try, and one the mini-flip for Ford’s second. For me the Man of the Match was at the back of the team though. His haircut is awful – speaking as a man who’s had bad haircuts all his life! – but filling in the 15 shirt, Duncan Taylor did a superb job. He’s not the paciest but he was secure, he carried hard and distributed well with a hand in two of the tries. Not only that, he kicked a conversion too. If Gatland’s looking for a centre-cum-fullback following injuries to Hogg and Jonathan Davies, Taylor should be on speed-dial.

41 Responses

  1. That 2nd try was beautiful. Great hands, speed, recycling, vision, skill and finishing!

  2. Looks steamy hot, some lovely tries & considering no Hogg, Maitland, Seymour, Jones, Laidlaw pretty impressive.

    Some beautiful plays by Russell

    1. Don’t forget Jonny, Richie and Hamish all missing too. Pretty much half a team out for one reason or another

      1. Yes, but the guys coming in stepped up. That’s important. I was very impressed with Toolis.

  3. wow what about that one – ross ford’s second. what about those offloads. maybe the best scotland try i can think of.

    russell and price seem to stepped up a class. whole team playing well. enjoyed hoyland capturing off the kick off in the first sevens style.

    hope finns not too banged up for oz!

  4. Wonderful stuff! All the more impressive with Fordy looking like he was ready for a lie down after the first 20!

  5. Not a bad win against Italy at all. We’ve won 8 of our last 10 games against the Auzzuri, but I’d really like to see us ruthlessly thrash them for once, like Ireland/England and Wales sometimes do. Still, it feels like we have left the dark years a long way behind us now, in results and style. Roll on Fiji and Australia!

  6. It really does make a mockery of Gatland’s decision to take Biggar over Finn, and if he has any sense at all I think he will already regret it.

    Great start to the Toonie era, not without errors, but some great attacking intent and 2 lovely tries. Hopefully more of the same next week against the Wallabies.

    1. While Finn is capable of amazing things in attack there are still question marks over him. He played pretty poorly in the 6N when we needed him to step up an take control (France and England games). Combined with the fact he is the polar opposite to what Gatland likes in a 10 – I doubt this performance has made Gatland think twice.

      What I would like to see over the next 12 months:

      1. Finn to step up from a rogue kid to a rogue adult that is more consistent and can completely boss a game at the highest level.
      2. Jonny to add some ball carrying and line breaking skills to his already awesome defence. I seem to be in the minority that still rates Richie higher (there is a small sacrifice in defence for a large gain in meters made).
      3. Hardie to stop getting injured
      4. The emergence of another test 10 as back up to Finn and Horne
      5. Speaking of Horne – the younger brother to get a call up in the next 12 months? I thought Price had a good game but he can be guilty for hanging around the back of the ruck too long – the ref had to tell him to shift the ball several times and there was a successful counter ruck at one point while he was looking around. Pyrgos looked good when he came on too.

      1. Surprised at some of the criticism here.

        Finn bossed Dan Carter home and away and was man of the match Ireland and Wales I think and I don’t remember going wrong for him other than against England, which was with a whole team blip / team going backwards. He seems to be maturing wonderfully all things considered. If he can become a world class goal kicker / needs a maybe more consistent motion that would be great. My biggest worry with Finn is that so much of his game is based on feints that he’s going to clattered frequently without the ball, you just hope his body and head can last!

        Price was not guilty of slowing the ball down! He gave the forwards a rest on occasion and more often tried to draw a penalty from a constantly infringing Italian team. Obviously worked.

        The quality of both the half backs today showed, in that when they went off, Horne and Pyrgos looked average (they are not!).

        My big wish, aside from another fly half, is that I’d like to see Denton step up if that is possible. GT said he was v close to being on this tour post injury. Huge fan of Strauss
        , but another serious ball carrier would be great.

        Think we’ve probably seen the last of Laidlaw, with Price, Pyrgos and others, even Horne junior, more suited to the game plan. So hope he enjoys this Lions tour!

        Really impressed with Toolis today.

        Add Bennett to the list of missing players.

      2. Yes Finn was outstanding yesterday but my point is I think he needs to be more consistent and have better control over games – that can only be assessed over several months. A good game vs a very poor Italy will not convince Gatland that he made the wrong decision. Do the same thing against Australia and then Fiji then Gatland may pay attention? I doesn’t matter if you can boss Dan Carter if you struggle to handle Duncan Weir at home.

        I also don’t think there is a problem asking more from our players unless everyone is happy fighting it out in the bottom half of the 6N? The simple fact is people are arguing if he should be taken ahead of Bigger as the 3rd choice FH – it actually says a lot. What we want is to be having the conversation about whether he is starting the Lions test. If he can improve his control and game management I believe he can get there.

        The promising sign is that Toony really believes in him – I think I heard he was vice-captain yesterday? Hopefully this responsibility is good for him. I actually think Laidlaw has lasted so long because of the lack of game management outside him. However, like I said, hopefully this changes over the next 12 months.

  7. Correct & Correct Frazer, Gatland’s Welsh bias clear &/however – how GT will have us playing mistakes will be made.

    Fagarson looks so strong, finally looking like we have depth throughout the squad (FB & FH apart)

  8. Lots to enjoy there, albeit with tougher tasks ahead.
    Toolis back to his best form, when he should have been in the 2015 RWC squad.
    Can’t believe Toonie took Ford off on a hat trick ! :)

  9. Is Toolis ever anything else but on his best form, he must be nearing a nailed on in the 23

  10. Wobbly first half but good result in the end.

    Some cracking and inventive handling, especially for Fords second try.

    Not the finished product but a good first outing of the Toonie era. Especially with a number of players to come back into the team.

  11. With NRS here. Finn gets tagged ‘mercurial’ but I see him as an exciting and very skillful player who (like most tens) can be a bit inconsistent. It’s not a deterministic thing though, he does not predictably flake out in big matches. I have witnessed Carter and Sexton have mares on numerous occasions. I would say Farrell is by far the most consistent of the NH 10s, and consistently good. However, Finn, on form, is far more entertaining to watch. I would also say that on form he fixes defending players more effectively than any of his NH competitors.
    Agree with others above that Toolis had a great game, possibly fading out a bit in the 2nd half. Delighted for Fordy. Fagerson is a force to be reckoned with, and I was also impressed with Hoyland’s effervescence. His take of the bouncing ball leading up to Visser’s try was a nice touch.

  12. Completely agree with the defence of finn in the last few comments, thought he was outstanding and despite 2 tries for fordy and an excellent performance from Toolis, he was my man of the match. Yes he throws the odd stray pass but that’s because he is willing to be inventive and take chances which results in some of the great tries we seen yesterday. Far rather see that than some of the robotic 10s we have seen over the past 10-15 years.

    Delighted for Toolis after a great domestic season he deserved to put in a performance of that quality yesterday on the big stage. He is vying with Swinson for the 3rd lock position now and gilchrist has dropped back to 5th choice for the time being I’m afraid.

    We see, to be developing depth to the squad which is great going forward, it didn’t even look like we missed the lions boys at all. Connor O’Shea has an absolutely mammoth job on his hands, if he can turn italy into a squad capable of winning 6 nations matches in the next 3/4 years he deserves the equivalent of an Italian knighthood.

  13. Visser took a fair bit of kick clearing responsibility yesterday, stiffling conditions very sapping fot all the guys.

    Russell had a excellent game.

    RJ – if Hogg, Seymour had been playing we’d have scored 50

    Next week

    Taylor, Hoyland, Dunbar, Horne, Visser, Russell, Price
    Strauss, Watson, Barclay, J.Gray, Toolis, Fagarson, Brown, Reid

    Scott, Hughes, Pygros
    Wilson, Swinson, Nel, Ford, Dell

    (considering Hardie crocked)

  14. MoM was a tough one but Rory got it right IMO. Taylor brought the ‘complete full back’

    Great to see an alternative to Hogg at FB. Without his ‘all about me’ attitude, we saw the backs flourish. There is no’ I ‘ in Team.

    Price / Russell combination : impeccable.

    Toolis, I hate to admit, was dominant.

    The consistent Harley dropped into the second row seamlessly when needed.

    Visser: has a strike rate like no other in the squad, I have shown the stats before. What a finish and that height must be exploited.

    It is time to kick Maitland (who actually has the same strike rate as Jonny Gray) into touch. He is the misfit in Team Scotland IMO.

    Townsend = Team and we saw a team yesterday.

  15. Taylor is a tremendous player & gives GT tremendous versatility, what he (& almost everyone else in rugby) lacks is Hogg’s innate rugby genius, a very handy “thing” indeed.

    Like you Bulldog i find Maitland somewhat exasperating, however the Jonny Gray comparison is simply wrong, Maitland had a good 6N

    1. Maybe you have a point but missing the message.

      Maitland 5 in 28 caps, (roughly one try per 5 caps)
      Jonny Gray 2 tries in 33 Caps.

      So, you are right and I exaggerated a bit. I was remembering my research before this years 6N.

      However let’s see whom he compares with today:

      *Visser 28 caps and 13 tries. (roughly 1 try per 2 games)
      *Tommy Seymour 16 tries in 36 Caps. (roughly 1 try per 2 games)
      *Huw Jones 8 caps , 4 tries (1 try per 2 games exactly)
      *WP Nel 15 caps and 2 tries (1 in 7 games)
      *John Hardie (who played with him in NZ) 15 caps and 3 tries (1 every 5 games).Hardie barely makes it through a match as well.

      He is better than : our second row, just better than our prop (who gets 55-60 mins a game), equal with a (sicknote) wing forward,

      Worse than: our centre, miles short of his wing peers.

      I think most will agree , I have a point.

      I do like his tackling and in the 6N he covered well for our ‘innate rugby genius’.

      Source of statistics is ESPN and the SRU web page .

      Ultimately, whether we get the message or not, there is only one man who needs to get it right now and that is Gregor Townsend.

      1. Sir,

        Maitland IS a regular starter for the European champions (freshly signed new contract), a probable 2017 Lion (if he wasn’t injured), HE ISN’T a prolific try scorer.

        I read once in a NZ article that Maitland was “nearly” an AB/great player, he is however a very clever, somewhat exasperating but nonetheless excellent rugby player

        The stats you have highlighted are all accurate, but also subjective & your synopsis (below) verges on the nonsensical
        ……….He is better than : our second row, just better than our prop (who gets 55-60 mins a game), equal with a (sicknote) wing forward,…….

  16. I think that will be classed as a very satisfying win by the squad and coaches. A game played in horrible conditions – did they say it was 29 degrees and 86% humidity at the end? Some sparkling rugby, but also some defensive pointers, so lots of good stuff to work on for next week.

    I’m not sure that Finn Russell made that many passes to no-one. I can only remember the one inside the Italian 22 that went between Dunbar and Scott. Other than that he hit his man – although it didn’t always stick.

    My personal MoM was Toolis. I thought he had an excellent game, dominating the line out and working hard around the pitch. But Taylor and Russell were also very good. The other person who I thought played well was Barclay. He seems to be playing with a big smile on his face at the moment, and put in a good shift doing the little things well. He also seemed to strike a good rapport with the ref which can be so crucial in tighter games than this.

    1. John Martin – The facts are the facts – Interpret them as you wish, Thats what facts allow you to do.

      I have just shown how he compares to others. The facts show he scores less than his wing counterparts in a Scottish jersey and they are overshadowed by Huw Jones as it stands.

      Oh , I can believe he was nearly an all black, and he may have been nearly a 2017 lion, however, the former is not a fact just an interpretation of a journalist who could be every bit as non-sensical as me and the latter is hypothetical as he is injured.

      Too many ‘nearly’s’ for me John.

      Maybe he just gets the hard games and we put the others on for games we think we will win !!!!

      Incidentally what is your interpretation for the difference between the try scoring of Huw Jones, Seymour and Visser. Why is a nearly all black, European Cup final veteran , Championship winner not as effective in a Scottish jersey as his humble counterparts.

      1. Maybe we need the missed tackle stats too… good scoring loads if you’re letting them in just as quick. (Well its fun for the fans I suppose)

  17. Excellent retort Bulldog…………………

    Firstly I rate Huw Jones as one of the best centres in the NH.

    Maitland is interesting, he is a very clever all round player without the poaching ability of Visser or the instincts of Seymour, however the fact is he is not as prolific as the boys you mention in the act of scoring tries

    I too have questioned Maitland’s place in the Scotland squad but he has pretty much played whenever available. (interesting that it took 2 players to replace Maitland in the current tour).

    Finally the Scotland team when injury free is maybe the hardest to pick this century
    15.Hogg, 14.Visser, 13.Jones, 12.Dunbar, 11.Seymour, 10.Russell, 9.Price
    8.Strauss, 7.Watson, 6.Barclay, 5.J.Gray, 4.Toolis, 3.Nel, 2.Ford, 1.Dell
    Reps – Taylor, Horne, Pygros, Hardie, R.Gray, Fagarson, Brown, Reid

    1. Wingers in NZ are often made to look good by the quality of attacking backs inside them and a lower standard of defence. Often they just have to wait out wide for the ball to them and have the pace to get over the try line. When Maitland was playing for Crusaders he was a prolific try scorer but relied heavily on the talent inside him. Look at this clip of him scoring 4 tries vs Brumbies and ask yourself how many of these would be scored Europe.

      Compare that to wingers such as Seymour and Visser who’ve spent most of their careers playing outside NH backs (i.e. not as creative) and therefore score lots more tries from chasing kicks or intercepts. They have a much better poaching instinct than Maitland.

      Maitland was rushed into the Scotland side as soon as he arrived here and definitely struggled with the different style of the game. However since going to Saracens and playing alongside canny wings such as Ashton (who gets a lot of flack but is one of the most prolific wingers in Europe) and Wyles, I think his game has come on a lot and he is looking for work far more. I’d have him on the bench for now but with another season at Sarries could be pushing Visser for the starting spot.

    2. Fair play John, appreciate the honest response. Takes big men to hold the line.
      I cannot say why SM does not turn it on in a Scotland Jersey either, he is a regular at Saracens. I actually wish he would prove me wrong.

      We now have an embarrassment of riches in the backs. All in all, we are looking great.

  18. Can we get Toolis to teach the rest of the squad how to catch a restart? He made them look easy, and they were a constant problem for us under Cotter. Some good performances all round, and if Townsend can coax two tries out of Ford he must be doing something right.

    An excellent win all in all, although pretty scantly reported on down here south of the border where the focus has been on England’s world class Denny grew-up-with-the-St-George’s-cross-on-his-wall-always-dreamed-of-playing-for-the-red-rose Solomona snatching it for them at the death v Argentina. Will his inclusion in the England squad along with Nathan Hughes finally put the sneering about Celtic project players from English rugby writers to bed? We can but dream

    1. No chance! Their view would be that we need good players and therefore are poaching overseas talent for nefarious gain.

      They of course are merely providing first class opportunities to players that haven’t had the benefit of being English until now…how very philanthropic of them.

    2. And very little mention of the two tries Argentina scored as a result of his missed tackles!!

  19. Can’t believe the 2 wild passes Finn threw, the sooner a steady hand is brought in ala Dan Parks to guide him, the better.

    I was amazed Pyrgos was picked ahead of Price in a couple of big Glasgow games towards the end of the season, and I’ll be annoyed if Laidlaw is straight back in ahead of him in the autumn. Price is much better than both.

    Dunbar is another one who should be looking over his shoulder, he never seems to do anything there days apart from ok tackling and Scott, Taylor both bring more to the table as 12.

    1. Agree about Dunbar. Not sure if it’s just that he needs a break or if others have simply overtaken him.

      With a fully fit/available squad to pick from I’d have Taylor and Jones at 12 & 13.

    2. You never fail to amuse me with the Dan Parks comments! A fair point on Dunbar though, and that can only be a good thing. Even the idea that Dunbar would be under threat a couple of seasons ago would be laughable. He was mediocre in the 6N, Scott is playing well and hasn’t really had a fair crack at the whip recently in a Scotland jersey, Jones still to come back and Taylor is also playing well. That’s without even mentioning poor Mark Bennett or considering Horne as a centre.

      I too would be a bit peeved if Greeg walks straight back in, Price is doing a swell job and Toonie obviously likes him and Barclay is doing a fine job with the captains armband. Being picked for the Lions might have cost him his Scotland job. If he gets back in on merit then that’s absolutely fine but I don’t think that would be the case at the moment.

      Poor Hoggy, gutted for him, shit luck. Must make it even worse given it was friendly fire. Bad for the Lions too, Hogg is just about the only guy in the NH that I can imagine gets the All Black sphincters even slightly twitchy, even if he hadn’t set the heather on fire thus far. Will be interesting to see who Fatland picks though, based on form Halfpenny wouldn’t get a look in. Bad for Scotland, I can’t see Greeg getting a look in for any of the tests, I can feel Tommy Seymour building up for something special though, you read it here first!

  20. Yesterday’s Scotland play, not withstanding the weaker opposition (as we were), was a pleasure too watch. I really hope Townsend is able to stick with this open style, which prevails in the Southern Hemisphere now and is surely the way the game is going. Great to add the strength in depth from players like Hoyland, Toolis, Price and Bradbury, all of whom looked comfortable at this level, although Australia will be tougher. If I had to pick a Scotland best team now it would be:

    Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Taylor, Maitland, Russell, Price, Dell, Brown, Nel, Gray, Gray, Barclay (c) Watson Strauss

  21. Interesting debate on the merits of Maitland v Visser. On the topic of relying on the inside players, I’ve always thought that when he was tearing it up a Pro12 top try scorer, Visser was very reliant on the creativity of the much maligned NDL inside him.

    There were times on Saturday when Visser looked like he was back to his bad old ways of not being interested in defence. If we were always to get the Visser of the Wales game he’d be one of the first names on the team sheet! Still love that he danced round North in about 30cm of space!

    For the talk of Maitland as a more intelligent player, are there stats on try assists to see if he is creating more for other players?

    For me, the only thing this team is missing to become world class is that bit of mongrel that Zinzane Brooke was saying is missing from the Lions. Find that and some abrasive ball carrying and we’d be challenging for 6N’s and RWC’s!

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