PACK power proved decisive as Italy marched to a six-tries-to-two victory, which extended Scotland’s losing streak at this level to 12 games, stretching all the way back to March 2019.
A second-minute try from winger Federico Cumineti set the ball rolling for the Azzurri, but the other five touch-downs came directly from the host nation’s muscular line-out maul. To their credit, the young Scots kept battling to the end, as demonstrated by Andy Stirratt‘s injury-time consolation score, but this was another demoralisingly one-sided encounter which highlights once again the failing of the development pathway in this country.
The Scots flew out to this Summer Series full of hope that they could stride forward after a tough Six Nations whitewash, with plenty being made of the increased number of players who had been given exposure to Super6 in recent months, but this heavy defeat allied to the 45-15 drubbing by Wales on Saturday indicates that the gap has grown rather than been reduced.
Time and again, players cracked under pressure, but the key difference was in physicality levels. “In terms of what we need to be doing to get better, we need to look at our domestic game preparation and how we are preparing these guys,” said head coach Kenny Murray. “Physically, we’re not there at the moment at under-20 level. Every team we play is a lot more physical and better conditioned than us, so that’s a big thing. At the end of the day, we just need to be bringing through better quality players to compete at this level, so there is a lot of work to be done.”
Scotland have an opportunity to lift the gloom when they play their final pool match against also winless Georgia next Wednesday, but that is a big ask for this beleaguered squad.
“They [Georgia] had a line-out to win in the last play of the game against Wales today so they are obviously going to be tough,” conceded Murray. “They are another big side but there are opportunities there as well, so we’re going too come out and have a go. There is no easy games at this level. We have to brush ourselves down, learn our lessons, and move on.”
It started ominously for Scotland with Italy taking the lead when clean line-out ball was shipped right across the park for winger Cumineti to muscle past opposite number Kerr Johnston on his way to the line, with only one minute and 22 seconds on the clock.
And when the Azzurri scrum blew the Scottish eight apart just three minutes later, it looked like the writing was on the wall already for Murray’s men, but they managed to hang in there for the next 20 minutes – helped by some opposition inaccuracy – before Italy eventually doubled their account through second-row Alessandro Ortombina, who got the downward pressure off a line-out maul.
Whenever the Scots had possession, they found themselves running into a brick wall, until a couple of flashes of inspiration managed to pierce their opponents’ previously untroubled defence just before the half hour mark.
Ben Afshar’s broke from a quick tap-penalty and when he was eventually brought down, Patrick Harrison followed the scrum-half’s lead by picking up at the base of the ruck and taking route one before the Italian’s had set. The hooker then showed some impressive pace to round the final man to touch down under the posts.
Euan Cunningham’s straight-forward conversion from right in front of the posts briefly hauled it back to a three-point game, but Scotland then lost lock Josh Taylor to the sin-bin, paying the price for persistent team infringements, with nine penalties conceded in the first half alone and 16 in the match overall. Italy took immediate advantage when hooker Lapo Frangini touched down at the conclusion of another powerful line-out drive.
Scotland threatened again just before the break, but Harrison lost the ball in contact five yards from the Italian line, and it felt like a match-defining moment.
The second-half was a stalemate, with both teams struggling to impose themselves, until Italy once again made serious headwaythrough their line-out drive on 65 minutes, with replacement hooker Tommaso Scramonsin getting the final touch.
That definitively killed off Scotland, with Giovanni Cenedese and Scramonsin, again, both taking advantage of that totally dominated line-out drive to add to Italy’s account.
that injury-time try from Stirratt provided scant consolation, although an optimist could argue that it provided the young Scots with some momentum to take into their final pool match against also winless Georgia on Wednesday.
Scotland : G Jones (K Clark 73); R McKnight (B Salmon 50), D Munn, A Stirrat, K Johnston; E Cunningham (C Townsend 50), B Afshar (F Burgess 73); I Carmichael (J Lascelles 59), P Harrison (D Hood 57), G Scougall (A Rogers 65), J Taylor (J Spurway 72), M Williamson, L McConnell (M Deehan 57), R Tait (R Brown 64), O Leatherbarrow ( G Hiddleston 54).
Italy: L Pani; A Gesi (D Passarella, 64), C Mey, F Lazzarin, F Cuminetti ((T Simoni 72); G Sante ( N Teneggi 11), S Battara (F Bozzoni 72); R Bartolini (L Rizzoli 54), L Frangini (T Scramonsin 43), V Bizzotto (R Genovese 49), A Ortombina (F Ruffolo 68), A Mattioli (C Berlese 64), F Lovorenti (G Marini, 54), M Rubinato (G Cenedese 57), R Vintcent.
Scotland: Try: Harrison, Stirratt; Con: Cunningham, Townsend
Italy: Tries: Cuminetti, Ortombina, Frangini, Scramonsin 2, Cenedese; Cons: Teneggi 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-15 (h-t) 7-20; 7-22; 7-27; 7-29; 7-34; 12-34; 14-34.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Taylor (32mins)