On a bright but brisk afternoon at BT Murrayfield, Scotland got their 2019 Six Nations campaign off with a confident and varied attacking performance, but will definitely have some work-ons for next week’s battle against Ireland who lost to England in Dublin.
Scotland thought they’d opened their account for the tournament in under 3 minutes, only for Grant Gilchrist to be penalised for a double movement when rumbling over from a maul. That opportunity had been offered up after a Laidlaw chip and chase forced Hayward to knock the ball over the touchline just a couple of metres from the line. Should Laidlaw have passed to Ritchie who was inside him? They did have a 2-on-1.
Blair Kinghorn was next to threaten the Italian line with a long-range arcing run, but was hauled down 5m short when a pass outside to Seymour seemed the more sensible option.
It was the Italians who opened the scoring however, as Ritchie was penalised for tipping Parisse in the tackle and Tommaso Allan knocked it between the sticks from 22m.
The lead did not last long. With the manky weather from earlier in the week having cleared, this looked like a good day to play some champagne (maybe prosecco would be more appropriate given the opponents) rugby. Scotland turned the Italians over in their own 22, and Finn Russell’s delightful cross-kick with the outside of the boot was claimed by Kinghorn who had a clear run to the corner.
The tricky conversion was missed, and disappointingly for Scotland, Sam Skinner had to be replaced by Josh Strauss, adding to Scotland’s lengthy list of injured back-rowers.
The change didn’t disrupt Scotland’s dominance however, and they capitalised on another Italian error in their 22 to score again through Kinghorn. The knock-on gave Scotland a scrum, Russell ran a Sexton-like loop play with debutant Sam Johnson, fed Hogg, and although the fullback’s pass went to ground, Kinghorn scooped it up and dived over in the corner again.
Scotland were playing the game in Italy’s half, Russell utilising his kicking game to stick them into corners that they could only kick clear from, but weren’t being overly clinical. Knock-ons, a misplaced Hollywood-off load from Huw Jones and scrum infringements allowed Italy to stem the tide you felt was coming, but it was going to have to be in the second half.
Plus points from the first 40 were Scotland’s defensive line-speed and an encouraging display from Johnson at inside centre, displaying his ability to burst through holes and excellent range of passing. Negatives: a lack of killer instinct and some poor decision making.
Half-time: Scotland 12 – 3 Italy
The surging grey wave continued to flow towards Italy’s try-line into the start of the 2nd half. When they weren’t in possession, they were kicking into corners and chasing the Italians like ravenous wolves.
In the 47th minute the wave finally crashed onto the shore. Seymour weaved his way through the middle, and with penalty advantage being played, Russell’s grubber was touched down by Hogg. But only just.
There was a scare when scrum-half Palazzani, a late replacement for Tito Tebaldi, snuck round the side of a ruck and raced down the right-hand side, but he knocked on whilst being tackled.
Kinghorn completed his hat-trick soon after. An incredible take by Finn Russell allowed Scotland’s attack to retain impetus, Laidlaw fed the onrushing Jamie Ritchie who burst through and off-loaded back to Laidlaw. He passed to Kinghorn who dummied and scored – and surely cemented a starting spot for next week, as well as the bonus point. He became the first Scottish winger since Tommy Seymour in November 2018 to score a hat-trick. Heady times for the wingers these days.
Try number five arrived just after the hour. Hogg did what Stuart Hogg (that’s Stuart Hogg the rugby player, not Stuart Hogg the person) does, he found a gap and ran into the danger-zone. He passed inside to Toolis who was hauled down short, as was Strauss, but Chris Harris, who had only just come on for Huw Jones, was at hand for an easy finish.
Scotland were to finish the match with 14 men, after repeated infringements near their own line, Simon Berghan being on the receiving end of the referee’s loss of patience. Italy took a quick tap and go, and just two phases later scrum-half Palazzani picked up from the base of the ruck and dived in under the sticks.
Stuart Hogg then thought he’d scored a solo wonder try, but Ali Price was deemed to have obstructed the would be Italian tackler.
The turnover of possession led to another Italy score, Edoardo Padovani going over in the left corner after a terrific off-load from Jimmy Tuivaiti, but there was to be no Italian renaissance with the game already out of sight.
Italy did manage to make it a trio of tries though, with another display of nice off-loading, but Gregor Townsend and defence coach Matt Taylor will be livid at the defensive sloppiness which had set in during theAngelo Esposito was the man to get on the scoresheet after Campagnaro had been allowed the freedom of BT Murrayfield’s left-wing to charge towards Scotland’s line.
The 5-points are on the board, but the concession of those three late tries takes some of the sheen off what would have been an absolute thumping. We won’t get the same dominance of possession against Ireland, so will certainly have to be more clinical than we were in the first-half.
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Attendance: 67, 144
SRBlog MOTM: Russell and Johnson were excellent play-makers, Finn’s kicking from hand was exquisite, Richard and Gilchrist put a hell of a shift in, but if I don’t give it to Mr Hat-Trick, Blair Kinghorn, I’ll probably get accused of anti-Edinburgh bias. Took tries 2 and 3 very well indeed.