SCOTLAND’s Under-18s started their defence of the Six Nations Festival with a narrow defeat in an entertaining encounter at Hartpury College in Gloucester that went to the wire before the determined Italians snatched the victory. The Scots, with a squad that included four of the players who had featured last year, played some ambitious stuff and defended well in a tense finale, but were ultimately outdone.
There were plenty of positive aspects in the Scottish performance, including a solid defensive effort and some ambitious open rugby. However, there were areas that will be the focus of hard work over the coming days, not least a line-out that was disrupted several times by the Italians.
“It’s a learning and development process,” Scotland coach Ross Miller said. “The main learning is about switching off on the short-side defence at the end.
“The real positives were the way we attacked and looked after possession in the second half. I thought our attackers were excellent, especially Harry Patterson, who is a tremendous prospect. The back three have been working hard and they are exciting runners. They maybe need to learn that it’s not always on to run.
“Obviously the guys are disappointed and in some respects it’s right that they should feel a bit down. They are representing their country and that means a lot to them. But we’re not too focused on the result. They are young and they are resilient and they will bounce back.”
The Scots survived an early scare when they lost their first line-out and the ball was worked out to Luca Gruttadauria, who raced through and tried to feed Andrea Pancini. Fortunately for Scotland, Harry Patterson was alert to the risk and intercepted the pass.
Pancini had another tilt at the Scottish defence but was forced into touch just short of the line. However, Italy snatched possession on another Scottish throw-in and that allowed Tommaso Di Bartolomeo to pounce and crash over, with Mattia Ferrarin adding the extras.
The Scots were stung into action. And, with the lineout starting to function well, three penalties were dispatched into touch, with Scott Clelland the target man. Twice, the Italian defence held firm but on the third occasion, Gregor Brown charged into contact and Jamie Dobie fired out a pass for Matt Currie to force his way past two tacklers and score. Patterson’s conversion tied the scores.
Scotland took the lead in 25 minutes with a fantastic solo effort by Patterson. A Scottish scrum in their own half was under pressure from the bigger opposition pack and was shunted back the full 1.5 metres allowable at this age group. However, Dobie fed Patterson and the winger darted between the Italian half=backs then turned on the afterburners to blaze past Gruttadauria for the score that gave his side a half-time lead.
A five-minute spell of pressure by Scotland at the start of the second period failed to yield points and they had to show their mettle in defence – Harri Morris adding to his tackle count with a try-saving effort. They then resumed their pressure and came close on a couple of occasions before resorting to Patterson’s boot for a three-pointer after a deliberate knock on by Tommaso Menoncello that earned the Italian centre a yellow card. And the Scotland winger kept the scoreboard ticking over with another close range penalty in 57 minutes.
Back came Italy, and it required a last-ditch tackle by hard-working winger Finlay Callaghan to prevent them adding to their tally. And it took equally impressive efforts from Ben Muncaster and Gregor Brown to hold up Italians over the line.
However, Italy set up a tense finish when Pancini was sent in at the corner and Ferrarin banged over the conversion. And they snatched the victory in injury time when another slick handling move carried play into the Scottish 22 where Luca Adorni fed Fabio Schiabel, who showed some nifty footwork for a big lad as he crossed the whitewash to snatch victory.
Next up for the Scots is a match on Wednesday against Wales, who lost their opener against England.
Scotland Under-18s: N Sweeney; H Patterson, M Currie, S King, F Callaghan; A Harley, J Dobie; B Mace, S Clelland, D Gamble, A Samuel, S Whitaker, G Brown, H Morris, B Muncaster. Subs: J Johnstone, J Drummond, C Lamberton, J Campbell, R Jackson, C Scott, J Strain, C Furley, J King, J Craig, T Jones.
Italy Under-18s: L Gruttadauria; A Pancini, T Menoncello, F Drago, S Gesi; M Ferrarin, M Albanese Ginammi; D Tica, T di Bartolomeo, I Neculai, L Adorni, R Favretto, A Angelone, L Andreani, L Cannone. Subs: M Fontana, M Sassi, G Ravagnan, M Ruffato, M Meggiato, S Varney, N Bordin, L Marin, D Ulisse, F Schiabel, U Marocchi.
Referee: J James (England).
Scotland: Tries: Currie, Patterson. Con: Patterson. Pens: Patterson 2.
Italy: Tries: Di Bartolomeo, Pancini, Schiabel. Cons: Ferrarin 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7, 12-7 half-time, 15-7, 18-7, 18-12, 18-14, 18-19.
Yellow card –