DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun
HEAD COACH Bryan Easson said that his team had only themselves to blame for this heavy defeat, which condemns Scotland to a Six Nations wooden spoon decider against Wales back at Scotstoun next weekend. In fairness, Italy were pretty impressive – abrasive with ball in hand, generally solid at set-piece, and both clinical and cynical in defence when they needed to be – but there is no escaping the fact that the hosts were in many respects the architects of their own downfall.
“I’m not pleased with that,” said Easson. “I thought we were tentative. I don’t know how often we spoke about starting quickly and coming out of the blocks, so we were really disappointed to be 12-0 down so early.
“I was pleased with the resolve to get back in the game at 12-10. But, with 10 seconds to go until half-time, conceding that try really put us on the back foot again.
“We spoke at half-time about trying to be tighter – and then we gave away another soft one straight after half-time. They are hellish times to give tries away.
“Our best defensive set actually came in the 76th minute. For me, that’s just not good enough to wait that long to show that real want to get the ball back.
“I was surprised by how sloppy our start to the game was. I thought we had learned lessons from the England game. But the first 20 minutes just weren’t good enough.”
In fairness to the hosts, they were missing some key players in captain Rachel Malcolm, talismanic No8 Jade Konkel, experienced second-row Sarah Bonar and incisive outside centre Hannah Smith, but that’s the nature of international sport. You have to be able to roll with the punches at the top level, and Scotland need to get past the psychology of being plucky underdogs.
“Players of that experience are a presence on the field, but what we’ve got is the opportunity for other players to come in and get better,” added Easson. “We have to use the lessons from this to suggest that other players need to step forward as well.
“When you go into World Cups and so on, there is always going to be injuries and suspensions. Italy didn’t have one of their best ball-carriers available today, so I’m definitely not using that as an excuse.”
The good news is that Scotland can approach next weekend’s 5th/6th place play-off with some confidence in their ability to pick up the win which is required in order to avoid the ignominy of finishing bottom of the overall table this year. Wales have even less momentum at the moment having suffered heavy defeats to France (53-0) and Ireland (54-0) in their two matches of the campaign so far.
The hosts found themselves 12-0 down inside the first nine minutes, with inside-centre and player-of-the-match Beatrice Rigoni laying down an early marker by shrugging off Chloe Rollie on her way to touching down under the posts off a well-worked back-row move, quickly followed by Manuela Furlan scampering 40 yards down the left touchline for the first of her three tries. Stand-off Michela Sillari converted the first.
Scotland did well to recover and after Italian indiscipline allowed Lisa Thomson to kick to the corner, Emma Wassell made up for a few earlier fumbles by taking clean ball at the front, setting up a powerful drive which Lana Skeldon added the finishing touches to, before Helen Nelson converted.
It looked like the Rigoni had gone over for a second time as Italy pushed hard to reassert their dominance, but a quick referral with the TMO by referee Nikki O’Donnell confirmed that the ball had been knocked on in the process of touching down. That was a let-off for Scotland, but once again they found themselves hemmed into their own 22, with the pressure building.
Scotland did unleash a ferocious scrum which splintered the Italian set-piece and precipitated a temporary shift in momentum, culminating in Nelson kicking a 39th minute penalty to bring it back to a four-point game, but Louise McMillan’s failure to collect the restart let the visitors right back into it, with No 8 Ilaria Arrighetti rampaging in under the sticks four phases later.
On such fine margins do games at this level swing, and when the hosts gave away another fairly soft try to visiting full-back Vittoria Minuzzi at the start of the second half, it left Easson’s team with a mountain to climb.
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Nelson slotted another penalty to keep the Scots in touch, for the time being, but they were living off scraps, and when Furlan squeezed over for her second just shy of the hour mark it decisively settled the contest.
Scotland might have been beat, but they wouldn’t lie down, and spent the next ten minutes banging at the door between halfway and Italy’s 22, without ever looking like they had any idea where the key to the lock might be, and they then fell even further behind when Rigoni dived in for her second and her team’s sixth try of the contest
More Italian indiscipline – a high tackle on Rollie immediately followed by a pulled down line-out drive – allowed Scotland to finally work their way deep into opposition territory, and Wassell burrowed her way over with just under 10 minutes to go.
It was fair reward for the home team’s resilience in a match spent on the back foot, but the visitors had the final say when Furlan claimed her hat-trick in the final minute.
Scotland: C Rollie; L Musgrove (C Grant 59), L Thomson, H Nelson, M Gaffney; S Law (E Wills 59), M McDonald (J Maxwell 55); L Bartlett (L Cockburn 59), L Skeldon, M Kennedy (C Belisle 47), E Wassell, L McMillan, E Gallagher, R McLachlan, S Cattigan.
Italy: V Minuzzi (A Muzzo 65); M Furlan, M Sillari, B Rigoni, M Magatti; V Madia, S Barattin (S Stefan 71); E Skofca (G Maris 65), M Bettoni (M Merlo 73), L Gai (L Cammarano 59), V Fedrighi (S Tounesi 78), G Duca (I Locatelli 69), I Arrighetti, F Sgorbini (B Veronese 78), E Giordano.
Referee: N O’Donnell (England)
Scotland: Tries: Skeldon, Wassell; Cons: Nelson 2; Pens: Wassell 2.
Italy: Rigoni 2, Furlan 3, Arrighetti, Minuzzi; Con: Sillari 3
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 17-10; 19-10 (h-t) 24-10; 24-13; 29-13; 34-13; 34-18; 34-20; 39-20; 41-20.