COLIN RENTON @ Goldenacre
HERIOT’S may have suffered a second successive loss against the Italy Emerging XV, but Phil Smith, the BT Premiership champions’ coach was in no doubt over the value of the competition which has given his players two tough matches during the league shutdown.
“It’s been a brilliant exercise for us because we had the three week window. We have had two brilliant fixtures and I’ve exposed 30 boys to international rugby, you could argue”, said Smith, who used the fixtures as a showcase for some of his fringe players to stake a claim for a first team berth over the coming weeks.
“We had six 18 year olds on at the end – what an opportunity and what an experience for them to come out and play in a fixture like this”, he enthused “They have been pushing in the seconds. The seconds have a good run and I was determined to make sure they got something out of it. They absolutely did. They were playing against full time players.”
The outcome, Smith insists, was largely irrelevant, and he is sold on the prospect of a repeat next season.
“The result didn’t matter. It was about getting out there and having 80 minutes of hard rugby and that’s what they have given us”, he added. “Having done it, I would love to win the league again if this was another reward on top of winning the league.”
There was also good news for Glasgow Warriors, with flanker Chris Fusaro emerging unscathed from a solid 40 minute stint on his return from long-term injury.
The two-legged contest had been proposed as a match between the respective champions of the two countries but the Italians had preferred to use it as a testing ground for the country’s emerging side, effectively an ‘A’ selection comprising full timers and three men who had played at full international level.
Seeking to overturn a 50-33defeicit from the first leg in Biella, the hosts started well and converted their early pressure into a three point lead when Ewan Fox booted an eighth minute penalty.
The response came in the form of an unconverted try after a penalty was despatched into touch and after three unsuccessful attempts to cross the whitewash, the ball was swept along the line to Matteo Minozzi, who dotted down in the corner.
The Italians added another score when scrum half Alberto Chillon – a full Italian cap – linked twice with Pierre Bruno then chipped ahead and won the race to touch down after Gavin Parker lost his footing. Paolo Pescetto added the extra two points.
Heriot’s struck back when another spell in the ascendancy yielded a string of penalties that led to Matteo Corazzi being yellow carded and Michael Liness profited from the flanker’s departure, as he scooted in between the sticks. Fox had his conversion charged down.
However, the Italians had the final word in the first half when Pescetto banged over a penalty. And they extended their advantage within a couple of minutes of the restart when Minozzi dodged his way through and flipped the ball to Matteo Gabbienelli who plunged over – Pescetto again converting.
With both coaches ringing the changes, the momentum was lost and there was a lull in play. And when the pace stepped up again, it was the Italians who boosted their tally when Simone Marinaro sprinted down the left flank, leaving two tiring defenders in his wake. Pescetto added the extra two points and did so again after Sebastian Negri bagged a fifth Italian try.
The home side had one more contribution to make and it came seven minutes from full time when Charlie Simpson sent Parker in for a try. Donald Crawford thumped over the touchline conversion. However, the visitors concluded their effort the way they had started it, with a try from Minozzi, converted by Pescetto to clinch a comfortable aggregate win.
Heriot’s: G Parker; J Rae, R Mulvena, D Crawford, J Laird, E Fox, T Wilson; G Cameron, M Liness, R Mitchell, C Smith, C Marshall, M Maltman, C Fusaro, S Dewar
Subs: A Johnstone, S Cessford, L Clark, N Sutherland, M Hughes, A Ball, L Steele, C Simpson, S Mustard
Italy Emerging XV: M Minozzi; S Rossi, M Gabbianelli, E Lucchin, A Bettin, P Pescetto, A Chillon; T Bergonzini, A Luus, G Jacob, S Ortis, L Krumov, M Corazzi, A Trotta, S Negri
Subs: A Daniele, N Zago, R Tenga, D Fragnito, S Marinaro, L Mantelli, P Bruno, N Grigolon
Heriot’s – Tries – Liness, Parker, Conversion – Crawford – Penalty – Fox
Italy Emerging XV – Tries – Minozzi (2), Chillon, Gabbianelli, Marinaro, Negri Conversions – Pescetto (5), Penalty – Pescetto
Yellow card – Corazzi (39)
Scoring sequence: (Heriot’s first) 3-0, 3-5, 3-10, 3-12, 8-12,8-15 (h-t) 8-22, 8-27, 8-29, 8-34, 8-36, 13-36, 15-36, 15-41, 15-43
Referee: K Allen
Man-of-the-Match: Captain for the day, Michael Liness suffered a cut that needed stitches but came back to score a try and lead by example against a physical Italian pack.
Talking point: This Italian adventure has been an enjoyable reward for the Scottish champions – could it also be the catalyst to step up their title defence when the BT Premiership resumes?