DAVID BARNES @ Stadio Olimpico
THEY came, they saw, they conquered – but Gregor Townsend and his team will recognise that it was far from a complete performance, and will know that they have to be a lot sharper both sides of the ball for much more of the match if they are to have a fighting chance of getting a result against Six Nations championship chasing Ireland in Dublin next Saturday.
Five tries away from home in any international match is not to be sniffed at, but four of those scores came directly from counter-attack and turnover, with Darcy Graham‘s effort the only multi-phase score. The points are not likely to come as easy at the Aviva Stadium. In between the isolated highlights in this match, there was an awful lot of possession squandered through slack handling or inaccurate breakdown work.
The penalty count was down on recent weeks, to eight according to the official match stats, but at least half of those infringements were infuriatingly unnecessary.
Scotland handed Italy an early lead when their backline strayed offside at a line-out on halfway and Paolo Garbisi fired home the 45-meter penalty with just four minutes played, and the visitors’ first real chance to test their hosts with ball in hand floundered before the move got going when Ali Price failed to connect with Sam Johnson in the middle of the park.
Then, when Edoardo Padovani fumbled a high ball, a second promising opportunity came to nothing because Zander Fagerson was called for crawling with the ball along the deck.
And when George Turner went straight off his feet clearing a ruck, it took Scotland to three penalties conceded inside the first 11 minutes, so it was little wonder they had spent most of that time hemmed into their own half – with some fine work by Matt Fagerson over a tackle keeping the Azzurri from stretching further ahead.
It finally clicked for the visitors on 18 minutes when captain Stuart Hogg ran the ball back from deep, Darcy Graham provided the link, George Turner rampaged up the right touchline and man-of-the-match Ali Price carried the move unto Italy’s 22. When the scrum-half was eventually brought down 15 yards from glory, Graham appeared on the scene again to scoop up the ball and feed Finn Russell, who fired one of his trademark miss-three passes leftward for Sam Johnson to score in the corner.
Italy came back hard, and were given a helping hand by a loose pass from Russell which allowed Toa Halafihi to set top camp deep inside Scotland’s 22, but Price res cued the situation by reading opposite number Callum Braley’s pass for an interception of his own. The scrum-half broke up field then released Kyle Steyn, who sensed that he wasn’t going to escape Italy’s scramble defence so and had the wherewithal to toe-poke a kick diagonally forward which bounced perfectly to send Chris Harris on an unchallenged canter over the home try-line.
It was bitter pill top swallow for Italy but they dug deep again, and after a long-range penalty attempt from Garbisi fell short, their perseverance was finally rewarded from a set move off scrum ball in the middle of the park, which culminated in Pierre Bruno passing back inside just before being bundled into touch by Hogg to provide Braley with the simplest of finishes,
Scotland, however, had the last word of the half with a scrum move of their own which involved Russell and Hogg tying up Italy’s midfield then Harris coming back against the grain to burst the line for his second try of the match.
Scotland might have been nine points ahead but they still didn’t look settled, and the unforced errors continued to come, before it finally clicked again when Graham collected an inside pass from Russell and scrambled home on 48 minutes to bring up the bonus-point.
When man-of-the-match Price cruised through a yawning gap in Italy’s bedraggled defensive line and sent Hogg in for his 26th international try on the hire mark, it looked like Scotland had finally hit their stride for the first time since Graham’s try in the first half of their round two match against Wales – but that was the last shot they fired.
Italy dominated the final quarter of the match, withe replacement winger Ange Capuozzo striking twice in the 66th and 83rd minutes. It wasn’t enough to salvage a bonus-point for the hosts but will have provided them with some sort of morale boost as they continue their battle to stay relevant in the Six Nations.
Italy: E Padovani (M Zanon 65); P Bruno (A Capuozzo 45), J Brex (M Zanon 34-40), L Marin, M Ioane; P Garbisi, C Braley (A Fusco 51); D Fischetti (I Nemer 51), G Nicotera (L Bigi 51), P Ceccarelli (T Pasquali 51), N Cannone (D Sisi 53), F Ruzza, G Pettinelli (A Steyn 71), M Lamaro (A Steyn 15-22), T Halafihi.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson (S Tiupulotu 75), K Steyn; F Russell (A Hastings 75), A Price (B Vellacott 75); P Schoeman (A Dell 58), G Turner (S McInally 58), Z Fagerson (W Nel 58), S Skinner (J Hodgson 75), G Gilchrist, R Darge, H Watson, M Fagerson (M Bradbury 62).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Italy: Tries Braley, Capuozzo 2 Cons Garbisi Pen Garbisi
Scotland: Tries Johnson, Harris 2, Graham, Hogg; Cons: Russell 4.
Scoring sequence (Italy first): 0-3; 3-5; 3-10; 3-12; 8-12; 10-12; 10-17; 10-19 (h-t) 10-24; 10-26; 10-31; 10-33; 15-33; 17-33; 22-33.