THIS was Sergio Parisse’s Murrayfield swansong. The 35-year-old, making a record 66th appearance in the Six Nations may have lost some of his pace, but the guile and awareness remain intact.
Here he was proving that he still exerts a huge amount of influence, from cajoling his colleagues to nipping away at the referee’s ear. And, of course, his clever reading of the game means that he has learned to time his incursions to maximise the impact and save energy.
There he was, backslapping his team mates after a successful defensive effort, or calling a short line-out to himself, or querying the officials’ decision after Stuart Hogg had claimed the third Scotland try. Then there was the Argentine-born Stade Francais man delivering a crunching tackle on Finn Russell, a little impetus perhaps coming from the Scot being with Parisian rivals Racing 92.
The fierce competitor in Parisse resurfaced in the closing minutes when three tries raised hopes that the visitors might take something from the game. There he was, positioning his colleagues for the restart, popping up at scrum-half and then expressing his exasperation when the referee handed the Scots a penalty that was booted into touch to signal the end of the game.
Parisse then led his men on a lap of the pitch to acknowledge the supporters who had made the trip before accompanying his coach Conor O’Shea to the press conference. The player admitted that the hosts had deserved their win but also sought out some reasons for optimism.
“When we have possession we are dangerous. We can score tries. I think Scotland deserved the win. They dominated the game, had a lot of possession – more than us. The last 10 minutes is a good base to work on for the game next week against Wales,” he said.
Ritchie takes his opportunity
At the opposite end of the age scale, the youngest forward on the Murrayfield turf was Jamie Ritchie, making his maiden start in the competition at the age of 22. Unlike Parisse, who has been selected on virtually every occasion when he has been fit, Ritchie was a beneficiary of a hefty injury count in Scotland’s back-row and his versatility to play at open or blindside.
He was visible in open play as early as the second minute when he and Greig Laidlaw chased a kick through that forced a scrambled clearance by Jayden Hayward.
The first collision between Ritchie and Parisse saw the Scot penalised for a dangerous tackle, an offence that presented Tommaso Allan with a straightforward opportunity to establish a three point lead.
Ritchie went on to produce a performance described by Gregor Townsend as “outstanding”. He was particularly impressive in the lead up to Blair Kinghorn’s third try, making a perfectly angled run deep into the Italian 22 before Laidlaw acted as linkman for the winger to complete his hat-trick.
With 12 minutes to go, and Parisse ‘assisting’ the referee in making his decision, Ritchie was penalised at a ruck and Scotland were given a team warning that led to Simon Berghan being yellow carded for another offence shortly afterwards.
Being short-handed made it a tough final few minutes for the hosts, but they survived to take all five points and head into next week’s game against Ireland with work to do but confidence high.
And then, as Parisse did a television interview before heading for the changing rooms, Ritchie returned to the field with his children – symbolic perhaps of the departing Italian warhorse and the arrival of the coltish but fast-maturing Scot for whom this seventh cap looks set to be followed by many more, albeit he has a long way to go to eclipse the Italian’s tally of 135.