RWC23: Scotland v Italy: Darcy Graham double secures home win

Late Josh Bayliss try seals victory in first World Cup warm-up match

Luke Crosbie carries the ball as Scotland start their World Cup warm-up schedule with a win over Italy. Image: Craig Watson
Luke Crosbie carries the ball as Scotland start their World Cup warm-up schedule with a win over Italy. Image: Craig Watson

Scotland 25

Italy 13

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

IT wasn’t exactly a performance which will have South Africa and Ireland quaking in their boots, but that wasn’t really the purpose of this first pre-World Cup hit-out. The Scotland coaching team will be quietly satisfied that 23 squad members got some useful full-blooded game time after seven weeks of intense training, with no major injury concerns evident at the full-time whistle, and a win is always good for morale – no matter how scrappy. 

They surely would have hoped for a bit more spark from their team, but they have three more games to shake off the rust and build the required ‘connections’ (to use one of head coach Gregor Townsend‘s favourite words/concepts). Job done and Scotland move on to the second of their four warm-up games against France, also at Murrayfield, next weekend, knowing that they are in pretty decent shape but still have plenty scope for improvement, which is where they want to be at this stage.

No player who wasn’t pretty much guaranteed selection before will feel that they have decisively made their case for being part of the final 33 to fly to France at the start of September. Darcy Graham scored two tries and was always a threat (as we expect), Ben Healy (named player-of-the-match) was assured without setting the heather alight at stand-off, likewise Ollie Smith at full-back. The set-piece was dominant, while skipper Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson were both industrious and won a few shrewd turnovers.


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After soaking up some really pressure, Scotland threatened first when Darcy Graham chased down Ben Healy‘s kick, but under a deluge of rain and pressure from the last Italian defender, the little winger lost his footing after hacking ahead into the scoring zone.

The big drama during the opening quarter of an hour was a renegade seagull who initially stayed rooted to the Murrayfield turf as players swarmed around and over him, and then set off on an inebriated aerial tour of the stadium, before planting himself back down on the grass just outside Scotland’s 22. Eventually, some bold ground staff managed to wrap the confused bird in a white cloth and remove the poor soul from danger, prompting some light-hearted booing from the crowd who had become rather attached to the avian pitch-invader.

After a period of pressure, Scotland eventually took the lead on 13 minutes when they kicked a penalty to the corner and sucked the Italian defence in with the line-out drive, before Healy sent an inch-perfect cross-kick rightwards for Graham to gather and touch down.

There was a slapstick passage of play when Ali Price‘s loose pass on Italy’s 22 was hacked down field, with Ollie Smith and Chris Harris both sliding into gather but failing to hold on to the slippery ball, before Smith was successful at the second time of asking inside his own in-goal area, conceding a scrum-five, establishing the field position from which Azzurri sated-off Tommaso Allan opened his team’s account with an offside penalty a few moments later.

Scotland didn’t really threaten again until the 35th minute when a penalty kicked to touch was once again gave them an attacking platform, the line-out maul was once again deployed, and this time an intricate passing move released Graham on the right, but the Hawick man couldn’t quite escape the Italian cover defence.

Not to be outdone, Italian winger Money Ioane demonstrated that he can be a threat with ball in hand just before the break when he skinned Graham on the outside before Smith managed to save his team-mates blushes. Italy did have the last say of the half when Allan stroked home a long-range scrum penalty from wide on the left to make it 6-5 to the visitors at the break.

 

Scotland changed their entire front-row on 45 minutes and immediately won a collapsed scrum penalty slap-bang in from of the posts, which allowed Healy to restore his team’s slender lead.

An excellent 60-yard kick into the corner from Smith was enthusiastically chased by Graham, who charged down Martin Page-Relo‘s attempted clearance, but replacement hooker Stuart McInally couldn’t quite secure the ball before it disappeared over the dead-ball line.

It was only a brief reprieve for the Italians, with Graham snatching his and Scotland’s second try of the afternoon by bursting onto Ali Price‘s inside pass and propelling himself over the line.

Italy struck back just after the hour mark after a period of pressure culminated in a try in the left-hand corner for Monty Ioane off a cut-out pass from Allan, who also added the conversion to make it 15-13.

That’s as close as Italy got, with Healy kicking another scrum penalty on 74 minutes and then Josh Bayliss finishing off perhaps the most cohesive passage of play in the match in the final minute to see the Scots comfortably home.

 

Teams –

Scotland: O Smith; D Graham (B Kinghorn 71), C Harris (C Redpath 56), S McDowall, K Steyn; B Healy, A Price (J Dobie 56); R Sutherland (J Bhatti 45), G Turner (S McInally 45), M Walker (J Sebastian 45), S Skinner, S Cummings ( C Henderson 63), L Crosbie (J Bayliss 69), R Darge, M Fagerson.

Italy: L Pani; P Bruno (A Garbisi 50), T Menoncello, L Morisi (F Mori 56), M Ioane; T Allan, M Page-Relo (G Da Re 63); F Zani (D Fischetti 50), E Faiva (M Manfredi 56), P Ceccarelli (F Alongi 59), D Sisi (E Iachizzi 56), A Zambonin, F Ruzza, M Zuliani (L Cannone 50), T Halafihi.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

 

Scorers –

Scotland: Tries; Graham 2, Bayliss; Con: Healy 2; Pen: Healy 2.

Italy: Pen: Ioane; Con: Allan; Pen: Allan 2.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 5-3; 5-6 (h-t) 8-6; 13-6; 15-6; 15-11; 15-13; 18-13; 23-13;

 

Attendance: 49,977


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About David Barnes 3821 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

11 Comments

  1. Yes, Price’s pass to Graham for his second try was nice, but his mistakes were glaring and costly. He surely can’t be in contention after that display. The scrum was transformed by the substitutions and I felt the centre combination was very weak, which surprised me as McDowall had been on good form. There’s no reason why we should be any rustier than Italy(if you ignore the constant rain throughout July), but it wasn’t even a second choice team and many unfamiliar names appeared for Italy too.
    The game served its purpose, getting a look at some new blood and untried combinations, with what follows hopefully honing the squad and getting us in better shape than we were four years ago. I’m very relieved to have been high in the east stand, well out of the rain and the path of circling gulls.

  2. Going to disagree with lots but for me….Healy has a siege gun boot but can’t run a back line hence he was 3rd choice at Munster ans barely in discussion for Ireland….neither 9 are anywhere near….dobie could become a wing but he’s never a half back…. Harris was an utter bomb scare with or without ball and killed everyone inside and outside him…should never be near our squad again wasn’t even good in defence sliding off tackles n couldn’t catch clap in Amsterdam….back row horribly quiet….2nd row all of them excellent in set piece and open….front row generally all solid but id really like to see walker as the forward bolter rather than Sebastian. Darcy was utterly world class and the real potm.

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  3. Not sure what the coaches will make out of that. Graham is still a class finisher. Healy has a good boot. Darge and Fagerson are industrious. Smith showed some nice touches. Our defence was competent for their attack. We won. No obvious injuries. Couple of new caps.

    In terms of handling it looked like we were playing with a wet bar of soap and they werent. It also looked like we’re planning on keeping the attack play book secret until the South African game. Our set piece still looks too fragile for the Boks and Ireland.

    Fully expect a completely different team for the next game and it will be interesting to see how they go against stiffer opposition.

  4. The most obvious factor I took out of the game was that I shouldn’t have watched the NZ v Oz fixture before, for obvious reasons, the difference in quality from NZ was frightening, less so Australia and surprisingly SA v Argentina offered up the hope that we might catch the Boks cold, but not with the squad that was on offer today I would suggest.
    I thought Fagerson M put in some excellent work and one particularly cracking tackle along with Darge who also put in a shift. There seemed to be an ascendancy from the pack midway through the second half but all in all it looked as others have suggested a bit ‘Rusty’.
    It’s at times like this that you have to feel for Townsend and his selection responsibilities as I’m no further forward on some aspects.
    As an example one moment Harris puts in some tremendous tackles and then at times you wonder is that particular ability sufficient for him to get the nod. I suppose Horses for Courses is the answer, but not all Equines are equal if you get my drift.

  5. Thoughts:

    Healy – Solid without doing too much. Great touchfinders.

    Harris – Great hits in D, big turnover, wasn’t bad in attack (despite the naysayers). No Huw though.

    Price – didn’t help his case with missed kicks and some wild passes, though good moments in D.

    Javan – can’t quite believe Gregor said he was approaching his best physical shape… but better than Walker.

    Darge – decent but outshone by his opposite number by a distance.

    Crosbie / Cummings – really quiet…

    Smith – solid, but Kinghorn was an improvement. Hoping to see him kick on soon to the next level, still not quite there internationally for me.

    Graham – class of his own, sure he will start over Steyn in WC (who is still v. good).

    Both hookers were good and did well. Same with Skinner, lineouts ran efficiently. Henderson gave real aggression when he came on, impressive. Don’t think Redpath flourishes without a creator or dynamic runner (e.g. Lawrence at Bath) inside him.

    Scrappy performance (expected, weather didn’t help), impressed with the italians (great aggressive defence), they seemed more up to speed than us. Though our line speed was excellent, but made very little dominant / aggresive tackles – fine for Italy, but concerning with SA and Ire looming where you want to stop them on the gain line. Seemed to get to Italy well but then concede meters after. Line out big improvement, but hated to see the return of easy turnovers off kick off after scoring…

    On to France!

  6. Would like to see Redpath and HJ outside Finn next week. Plus Kyle Rowe at full back but maybe against Georgia.

  7. Well………. struggled badly, but 1st game so I’ll behave……. however….

    Having 2 plodders (maybe harsh on McDowall) inside Healy will never result in quick back ball.
    I’ve thought for a while may as well take Dobie to France and leave Price at home.
    I thought Healy secured his place in the squad courtesy of his kicking.
    Redpath is simply superb.
    Latterly in the game amply shows the benefit of having proper scrummagers playing, alas Walker is to green and Sutherland is nowhere near the tremendous player he was 2-3 years ago.

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  8. Good first go for Healy well worth MOM some nice kicking. Thought Fagerson put in another great shift. Sutherland and Walker were poor up front and the scrum only improved when Sebastian and Bhatti came on. Not a great performance from Scotland but a win is a win. Will be interesting to see who plays against France , it will need a significant improvement.

  9. Hard to read too much into what is essentially a friendly / training game. More of a chance to get game time and physicality. The rain certainly didn’t help and hopefully weather conditions in 6 weeks won’t be like tjat.

    That being said was really impressed with Healy’s performance and his boot- can’t see him starting ahead of Russell in the big games but great back up option. Was also good to see Darcy Graham continue to be as electric when he gets the ball. Thought the replacement front row made a real impact – scrum is such a key area for us for me Murphy walker shouldn’t be anywhere near the plane but I’m sure he will due to his uncle. Looking forward to the next game- expect lots of changes.

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  10. Hope the seagull is OK and back to pinching people’s chips!
    Mixed bag but a win is a win..onwards and upwards!

    • Going to be a part pooper and point out that due to avian flu both RSPB and SSPCA not.ally euthanise injured birds unless they are an endangered species.

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