Italy Under-20s 29
Scotland Under-20s 30
AT long last, we have a Scottish victory in this Six Nations campaign. Sean Lineen’s age-grade side – who had suffered heartbreaking defeats to Ireland and England in rounds one and two – showed huge belief and commitment when fighting back from 11 points down going into the final quarter of this contest to score two tries which secured a first win over the Azzurri at this level since 2017.
Not all superheroes wear capes, but a few of them were in dark blue rugby jerseys with thistles on their chest at the Stadio Mirabello this evening – not least the visiting front-row of Thomas Lambert, Ewan Ashman and Mak Wilson, who each played 80 punishing minutes without taking a backward step.
Ashman was a key member of the Under-20s programme last year, he is in the Sale Sharks academy and spent a period on loan with Edinburgh at the start of this season, so while his gargantuan contribution here was well worthy of the highest praise it was the durability and desire of the far less experienced Lambert and Wilson which really stood out.
It was not, however, all down to the front-row. There was excellent performance across the park from the men in blue.
In a seesaw first half, Scotland took a 10th minute lead when Cameron Henderson hit a great angle with real pace and then showed that he is absolutely a modern-day second-row with an excellent offload out of contact which sent scrum-half Kyle McGhie in for the try.
The hosts responded on 16 minutes through openside flanker Manuel Zuliani, burrowing over from close range after an excellent snipe by scrum-half Manfredi Albanese – but the Scots remained composed and were soon back in front when both Ollie Smith and Robbie McCallum executed excellent offloads out of contact, which gave Rufus McLean a sniff of the line which he happily took full advantage of. The winger was a threat with ball in hand all evening.
Stand-off Nathan Chamberlain had missed his earlier, slightly easier, conversion but he was bang on the money from the touchline on this occasion. However, it was the Italians who went into the break ahead thanks to a combination of hard running and slick hands which released outside centre Federico Mori down the left touchline for a try which stand-off Paolo Garbisi once again expertly converted.
Italy extended their lead through the trusty boot of Garbisi at the start of the second half, after Smith was penalised for an illegal clear-out at a ruck in the middle of the park, but that particular score was soon cancelled out by Chamberlain following a home offside.
Scotland were looking dangerous, with McLean, Henderson and hooker Ewan Ashman all asking questions with the ball in hand, but it was Italy who struck next through an excellent Jacopo Trulla try, after an excellent dink in behind from Garbisi.
Italian hands in the ruck after a carry from the industriousWilson – a player who has grabbed his opportunity with both hands – allowed Chamberlain to help himself to three more points, which kept the young Scots in touch.
Lorenzo Cannone appeared to be awarded a try but after consultation with his assistants, referee Adam Jones correctly adjusted his decision on the basis that the Italian No 8 had pretty much crawled over the line after being tackled by Smith – however, it was only a temporary reprieve, with the home side showing bucketloads of rugby smarts a few minutes later when a powerful line-out drive followed by a simple but slick nine-ten interaction put winger Michael Mba over.
With 20 minutes to go, that could – and would – have been the killer blow for a lesser side, but this team showed their true colours when digging deep to score two tries which snatched the win.
The first one needed a bit of good fortune after Cameron Scott’s cross-kick was partially charged down by an Italian hand, but fair play to Robbie McCallum for reading the bounce then showing electrifying pace and now little power as he scurried over in the corner with just under 14 minutes left on the clock.
Replacement winger Harry Paterson’s touchline conversion hit the upright, but Scotland were still back within a converted try of the lead – and that’s all the encouragement they needed.
With seven minutes to go, Scotland snatched the lead when the consistently excellent Connor Boyle bounced and twirled and battled his way through at least three tackles before stretching over the line – right under the shadow of the posts, setting up an easy conversion which Paterson had no problem turning into the two requited points which secured a famous victory.
Italy: J Trula; L Borin, F Mori, G Bertaccini, M Mba; O Garbisi, M Albanese (A Visentin 70); M Drudi (M Brighetti 72) P Cucinotta 62), G Lucchesi, I Neculai (L Machelini 60), R Favretto, A Zambomim, L Andreani, M Zuliani, L Cannone.
Scotland: O Smith; R McLean, M Currie, R McCallum, J Henry (H Paterson 64); N Chamberlain (C Scott 64), K McGhie (R Frostwick 52); T Lambert, E Ashman, M Wilson, K Watt (A Maxwell 61), C Henderson, G Brown (J Hill 52), C Boyle, R Darge.
Referee: Adam Jones
Italy: Tries: Zuliani, Mori, Trula, Mba; Cons: Garbisi 3; Pen: Garbisi.
Scotland: Tries: McGhie, McLean, McCallum, Boyle; Con: Chamberlain 2; Pen: Chamberlain 2.
Scoring sequence (Italy first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 7-10; 7-12; 12-12; 14-12 (h-t) 17-12; 17-15; 22-15; 24-15; 24-18; 29-18; 29-23; 29-28; 29-30.
Yellow cards –