JOHN DALZIEL’S men will be looking to make it two wins from two matches against Australia in this year’s Junior World Cup when the sides become reacquainted with each other at the AJ Bell Stadium near Manchester on Monday evening (7.45pm kick-off).
A chance to compete in a fifth place play-off final against either New Zealand or Wales is at stake, which might sound a little bit like making up the numbers, but should not be completely dismissed out of hand given how poorly Scotland has fared in this tournament in the past.
Last year’s eighth place finish is the previous high-water mark in eight years of the competition. Previous to that they had finished ninth on two occasions and tenth the rest of the time. Having now won two matches in the pool stage for the first time ever, they will be desperate to build on that by achieving a highest ever final seeding.
The young Scots will undoubtedly draw confidence from their victory over Australia in the opening round of matches last Tuesday, but they will also be acutely aware that another crank up in intensity is on the cards as we reach the business end of the campaign.
While this second tier competition may not be what the Australian’s travelled all this way to be part of, they will be desperate to return home with some sense of pride still intact. The fear of failure can sometimes be a more potent motivational tool than the lure of success.
The fact that the play-off final is likely to tee-up a match against New Zealand – who failed to make it through to the knock-out stages of the main Cup event for the first time ever – can only help up the ante.
The details of how this victory over Italy was achieved will provide Dalziel and his analysts with cause for celebration and concern in almost equal measure.
When the team clicked as an attacking force they were too hot for the Italians to handle, their resolve in defence was awe-inspiring at times, and the general spirit of the team at the end of a physically and psychologically exhausting eight day run is to be commended.
The scrum remains an area of concern, especially as we know that the Australian’s will field a huge pack. With Zander Fagerson and Murray McCallum reinstalled as props in this match, things were certainly much steadier than against England, but there was still a few calamities when the focus slipped.
Discipline also let the team down on several occasions, including a number of off-sides in areas in the park where there was absolutely no need to push their luck. The referee may have been pedantic, but it shouldn’t take that long to work when it is necessary to err on the side of caution. The encouraging thing as far as the Scots are concerned is that they firmly believe that they can play better, and there is no reason to believe that this is misplaced optimism.
Adam Hastings missed the England match with concussion but he was back to something approaching his impetuous best in this game, throwing the most casual of dummies and then floating through the gap he had created to set in motion the attacking surge which led to the first try after 17 minutes. An exchange of passes with Callum Hunter-Hill, and a timely intervention from Matt McPhillips took the movement to short of the Italian try-line, and two rucks later Murray McCallum barged over.
The Italians bounced straight back up-field, and the Scots pushed their luck when conceding three penalties on their own line. Daniele Rimpelli burrowed over the whitewash only for the try was disallowed because he had been on his knees when winning the ball at the ruck. Instead it was the impressive Giovanni Licata who got the Azzurri off the mark after a driven line-out rumbled into the scoring zone from ten yards out. Leonardo Mantelli clipped over the conversion to give the Italians the lead at half-time.
The Scots came out the sheds after the break with all guns blazing. Jamie Ritchie sent Robbie Nairn thundering like a startled buffalo down the right touchline and a penalty was given against the Italians as they desperately tried to slow possession down under the shadow of their own posts.
Hastings stepped forward to claim three easy points, and a few moments later Nairn was back in the thick of it again when he seized upon Luca Sperandio fumble and motored home from 65 yards. With their tails up, the Scots enjoyed their best period of the match, and after several impressive phases they created an overlap on the left for the excellent Blair Kinghorn to cruise over.
With 25 minutes left on the clock, the Scots seemed to have stranglehold on the match, but the Italians bounced back with a close-range try for Rimpelli.
Scotland secured the bonus point when the Italians failed to deal with another clearance kick, this time Pierre Bruno was the culprit and Ally Miller the beneficiary, although the Melrose based back-rower still had to demonstrate good strength and pace to make it over from twenty yards.
Italy finished with their foot on the accelerator, and Bruno made a partial amends for his previous error when he squeezed over in the corner at the death.
In the main Cup event, Ireland will take on Argentina in one semi-final for the right to take on the winner of England versus South Africa in the second match-up.
Scotland: Try: McCallum, Nairn, Kinghorn, Miller; Con: Hastings 2; Pen: Hastings.
Italy: Try: Licata, Rimpelli, Bruno; Con: Mantelli 2.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; R Nairn (C Gray 72), T Galbraith, M McPhillips, B Robbins; A Hastings, H Fraser (C Shiel 72); M McCallum (G Thornton 59), J Kerr (L Anderson 68), Z Fagerson, C Hunter-Hill (A Craig 63), S Cummings, J Ritchie (S Burnside 69), M Smith (L Wynne 43), A Miller.
Italy: M; Minozzi; P Bruno, M Zanon, D Schiabel, L Sperandio (A Bronzini 72); L Mantelli, R Raffaele; D Rimpelli (D Borean 75), M Manfredi (E Makelara 49), M Riccioni, L Krumov, D Fragnito, L Masselli, G Pettinelli, G Licata.
Man-of-the-Match: Blair Kinghorn