SCOTLAND played better in some respects against Italy than they had done in their previous three TikTok Six Nations matches, but that was scant consolation as they slumped to a fourth defeat in as many matches.
As they had done against Wales, the Scots let a decent lead slip in the second half, and left with only a losing bonus point when far more appeared to be there for the takening. There was not the maddening inconsistency at Parma’s Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi that they showed in Cardiff, but it was a frustrating display nonetheless, with head coach Bryan Easson attributing the loss to his team’s poor discipline.
“I felt at half-time we had Italy on the ropes,” Easson said. “We were in a good position to win that game at 10-3 at half-time. It was a missed opportunity without a doubt.
“We were disappointed with our discipline in the first half, when we conceded six penalties. But we gave away another three in the first six or seven minutes of the second half, and the opportunities for Italy came because of our ill discipline.”
Heavy rain made the going tough, and Scotland’s back line was disrupted in the second half when scrum-half Jenny Maxwell was taken off injured just a minute after coming on. With Caity Mattinson and Sarah Law both having just left the field, that forced a reshuffle which saw full-back Chloe Rollie move to scrum-half.
Nonetheless, Easson did not see that as an excuse for his team’s loss. “By that stage the game should have been done and dusted,” he added.
Both sides looked cagy and lacking in confidence at first, perhaps predictably given that they had lost their previous three matches. The home team began to become more assertive when an enforced early change saw veteran scrum-half Sara Barattin come off the bench in place of the injured Sofia Steffan, but it was Scotland who opened the scoring with a penalty from Helen Nelson.
The initial platform was established when Lisa Thomson sent a penalty to touch inside the home 22, and although the throw-in was not straight, the Scots won a free-kick from the scrum. The defence offended in the next phase, and Nelson made no mistake from in front of the posts.
Italy had not come close to scoring in the first quarter, but they steadily exerted more pressure from the midway point of the half, and equalised through a Michela Sillari penalty after the Scots defence had killed the ball on the deck. The home side were soon back on the attack, but a powerful Scottish scrum won the ball against the head and were rewarded with a penalty.
That incident was illustrative of the first half as a whole: an affair in which defences were on top, chances were few and far between, and creativity was at a premium. With half an hour played, however, Scotland began a long passage of play which eventually resulted in the first try of the match.
The first scoring opportunity, a lineout drive which reached the five-metre line, was thwarted by the home defence. But the Italians continued to resort to illegal play in the following phases, and eventually, after another penalty had gone to touch, Emma Wassell forced her way over the line. The referee initially decided that the Scotland lock had been held up, but the replay showed that the ball had been touched down, and Nelson added the two points from the conversion.
The seven-point lead was no more than Scotland deserved after enjoying territorial advantage for the bulk of the first 40, but they knew that a similarly impressive second half would be needed before victory could be secured. They were on the back foot for the first few minutes after the resumption, but a Lisa Thomson turnover relieved the pressure.
The respite was no more than momentary, however. The Italians regained possession thanks to a penalty, and, in a move very similar to Wassell’s try, Melissa Bettoni finished off from close range. Sillari converted to bring her team level.
Scotland needed to reassert themselves, and they did when Sarah Bonar stole lineout ball inside the home 22. But they failed to turn pressure into points, Italy were soon back on the attack, and with 25 minutes to play a Sillari penalty put them in front for the first time in the match.
Substitute Megan Gaffney was tackled into touch just metres from the line as Scotland tried to hit back in the final quarter, but that was a rare chance in a second half in which running rugby had become difficult because of the increasingly heavy rain.
The Italian pack handled the conditions well, however, and with 10 minutes to go they mauled the ball upfield, where substitute Silvia Tourani finished off. Sillari again added the extras, and Italy were 10 points in front.
A Nelson penalty reduced the deficit with five minutes to play, but Scotland did not have a chance to force the draw. They will now need to pick themselves up and somehow find a way to get the better of Ireland in Belfast in Saturday’s final round of games.
Italy: Tries: Bettoni, Tounesi. Cons: Sillari 2. Pens: Sillari 2.
Scotland: Try: Wassell. Con: Nelson. Pens: Nelson 2.
Scoring sequence (Italy first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-8, 3-10 half-time, 8-10, 10-10, 13-10, 18-10, 20-10, 20-13.
Italy: M Furlan (capt; V Minuzzi 15-24 mins, 64); A Muzzo, M Sillari, B Rigoni, M Magatti; V Madia, S Stefan (S Barattin 8); M Bettoni, V Vecchini (S Turani 62), L Gai, V Fedrighi, G Duca, B Veronese (S Tounesi 59), I Locatelli, I Arrighetti.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, L Thomson, H Nelson, S Campbell; S Law (H Smith 56), C Mattinson (J Maxwell 56, M Gaffney 58); M Wright (L Bartlett 65), L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (capt), R McLachlan (L McMillan 73), E Gallagher.
Referee: L Jenner (New Zealand).