Scotland 26 – 6 Italy
Yesterday we saw Scotland beat Italy, led largely by the efforts of a man with an Italian name over whom many (including myself) have been guilty of indifference to in the past, and (for those watching on TV) commented on by another man with an Italian name who many of us have no doubt been gulity of downright antipathy towards in the past. Twin heroes of the day, Simon Danielli and (gulp) Lawrence Dallaglio. We’ll get to Lol later, but first let us talk (as we must) of Scotland.
We saw a fair bit less ineptitude in the basic skills than against France and almost a different team to the one that failed to turn up against Wales. The good thing was the way Scotland maintained the cutting edge and better support lines they had found at times in Paris, while chopping out some of the sloppy tackling and handling. But for a yard of pace (or a pass inside) Simon Danielli would have had a second try, and he more than made up for his knock-on a fortnight ago. With every performance he is cementing his ownership of the shirt and the same could be said of both Evans boys. Even with a hesitant interception thrown by Southwell, we now had the pace to recover the breakaway runner where 2 years ago we did not. Max or Thom didn’t get nearly enough ball, while Southwell got too much and kicked much of it away. Having found a storming running game for Edinburgh, he seems to have lost it again and kicked too much, often poorly. I think Paterson has earned his chance to start at full back against Ireland – we’ll need his boot, which would also allow Godman to concentrate on the Ireland back row that will be charging down his channel. Speaking of changes, what about Chris Cusiter starting? I’m a huge fan of Blair who has been talked up a lot for the Lions, but Cusiter has looked the sharper of the two with every game as Blair seems to go a little off the boil. Sly hunch of the day: Cusiter with an outside chance of a slot on the Lions tour? I just have a feeling he could be coming on to form at the right time and would like to see him get more of a chance to show this.
Up front, Euan Murray and Ally Kellock restored a bit of nous to the scrum and lineout, and should be definite starters in two weeks. Provided his fitness is okay, Murray is only going to improve from here. And there is something to be said for playing both Hamilton and Kellock to give real power in the set piece against Ireland. Alisdair Dickinson was much criticised in recent weeks for his scrum performances, but the Italy game allowed him to show that the set-piece is not necessarily the best showcase for his talents. With Jacobsen injured he should slot into his preferred number 1 shirt for the next game and give us a few more barnstorming runs.
The back row of Strokosch, Barclay and Taylor looked solid and settled – Taylor and the big Stroker had vastly improved games with the ball in hand. Strokosch set the tempo with strong early running while the defence and breakdown were solidly patrolled as we are coming to expect – and we will expect it to continue. The one exception to any attempts at marshalling was Sergio Parisse, who seemed to do exactly what he wanted whenever he wanted in just about every area of the pitch (legally too). The man’s performance was quite simply, stupendous and makes one think you won’t see Taylor in the Stade No 8 shirt any time soon. Stroker handed him his man of the match award last year, and but for the scoreline yesterday Parisse would almost have deserved Danielli’s award too.
While it was at times a very loose and scrappy game, Scotland showed enough style with their two well taken tries – the second involving almost the entire backline – to give us a little hope for the coming games. More hope would have been given on watching the very poor Ireland vs England game. You almost feel sorry for Martin Johnson who is struggling to build a team who just don’t seem to all want to play on the park at the same time. 14 seems to be their preferred number. A grimly determined but overly negative performance towards the end and an undeserved near victory stopped us from overtaking them on points difference, but you wonder where England go from here. Up, I suppose may be the only way. One thing is for sure, they need a new captain.
Speaking of former England captains, kudos must unfortunately go to the BBC too for unearthing a decent pundit to be the token “Italian” during coverage – one Mr Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. Undoubtedly a figure of fear and loathing for many Scots (for the most part irrationally), yesterday Dallaglio and Scotland’s own Andrew Cotter offered a great balance of wit, insight and – ooh – objectivity in their match commentary. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the back-biting ramblings of Moore and Butler which have now descended into some sort of idiotic sideshow all of their own, or the pro-Welsh carping of Jonathan Davies who was on Friday coupled with Nick Mullins who seemed to think Vincent Clerc was on the pitch for France (not in the 22). We’ll have a full school report on the pundits post tournament but for now, I know who I’d rather listen to – I never thought I’d say it was a man named Dallaglio.
Meanwhile Ireland have found their captain again, with Brian O’ Driscoll looking almost back to his pre-2005 form, possibly minus a little bit of pace and plus a slight concussion, but with that important little bit of magic intact. It’s a good job, as Ronan O’Gara had one of his notorious off days and it seemed to spread throughout the rest of his team. Despite the extremely dangerous Irish back row (who Scotland will have to keep a very close eye on) that yesterday gave only a slight indication of the damage they could do, Ireland looked a little rattled by the pressure of leading the tournament. Post match, Keith Wood said Irish coach Declan Kidney would do his utmost to install Ireland as underdogs in a couple of weeks. Whilst this is patently ridiculous, you can see his point. Neither of ours is a nation that likes to lead from the front, seemingly preferring the mantle of scrappy outsiders. Ireland are on course for a grand slam and so must be the clear favourites, even away from home. However, make no mistake, if Scotland can keep building their level of performance and this pair don’t, Scotland COULD beat both Ireland and England.