A DOMINANT performance up front by Italy stretched Scotland’s losing run in this year’s Under-20 Six Nations to four games. Kenny Murray’s team had no answer to the home side’s power in the scrum, and they might well have lost by a lot more but for their own willingness to fight to the last and the Italians’ profligacy. The young Scots now need to beat Ireland in Cork a week on Sunday to avoid the whitewash that was also inflicted on them last year – meaning that another defeat would take their run of losses into double figures.
Murray saw signs of promise in the performances of some of his less experienced members of his team, but accepted that his side had shot themselves in the foot with the high number of unforced mistakes they committed. “We knew it was going to be tough,” the head coach said after the loss in Treviso’s Stadio di Monigo. “It was just frustrating that we got a wee bit outmuscled at times in the scrum, and we made a couple of errors at crucial times.
“Their front row was huge. We’ve not got a couple of our own big players just now, and they would have made a difference.”
There was an ominous start to the match when Murray Redpath knocked on as he tried to catch the kick-off, and things continued to go wrong from there. With less than five minutes on the clock the young Italians were awarded a scrum penalty, which they sent to touch. The lineout ball was won with ease and fed to Giacomo Ferrari, and the captain powered over the line for the first try of the game, with stand-off Giovanni Sante adding the conversion.
Scotland would continue to play second fiddle in the set piece for the rest of the match, but they were closer to parity in open play, and opened their account through a Robin McClintock penalty after Riccardo Genovese had strayed offside.
Excellent defending by winger Ross McKnight then denied Filippo Lazzarin a try in the left corner after a powerful run by Ross Vintcent, and at the other end another offside decision allowed McClintock to add another three points with a second successful penalty.
But closing the deficit to 7-6 was as close as Scotland came to getting back on terms, and Italy went on to dominate the rest of the half. A Sante penalty midway through the first 40 put the home side into double figures, and then substitute Francois Mey – on for injured full-back Lorenzo Pani – all too easily weaved his way through the visitors’ defence for his team’s second try. Sante converted to make it 17-6.
Redpath was taken off for a head-injury assessment as half-time approached, and Italy had what would have been their third try of the half chalked off after the TMO ruled that full-back Rizzoli’s effort had been held up.
With Redpath back on along with two front-row replacements, Scotland went in search of a more assertive start to the second half, but lacked a clear idea of what to do with what possession they had against a dynamic defence. They were just as stumped when it came to dealing with the Italian maul, a weapon which gained the home side substantial ground every time it got going.
Another penalty from Sante took his team’s tally to 20, then after another Italian score was chalked off – this time for a forward pass – captain Ferrari got one that definitely counted. A powerful scrum by the home team saw the Scots pushed off their own ball, and Ferrari had all the time in the world to disengage, pick up, and race to the line unopposed. Sante added two more points and any thought of a fightback was surely over.
Full-back Kieran Clark and lock Innes Hill came on for their debuts, but neither they nor anyone else in dark blue was able to do much to change the direction of the contest. A break by McKnight just before the hour mark was briefly threatening, but not for the first time an individual initiative lacked sufficient support, and the chance was snuffed out.
Two penalties in quick succession then saw Scotland gain valuable ground, and after a good attack off a lineout Jed Gelderbloom, on again for Redpath, seemed sure to score only to be stripped of possession just short of the line. Edinburgh lock Rudi Brown came on for Max Deehan only to go off for an HIA two minutes later.
Scotland kept playing positively in search of an opening, and got their reward in the final play of the game when Josh Taylor twisted his way over the line following a sustained attack. Christian Townsend converted.
Italy U20: Tries: Ferrari 2, Mey. Cons: Sante 3. Pens: Sante 2.
Scotland U20: Try: Taylor. Con: Townsend. Pens: McClintock 2.
Scoring sequence (Italy U20 first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-3, 7-6, 10-6, 15-6, 17-6 half-time, 20-6, 25-6, 27-6, 27-11, 27-13.
Italy U20: L Pani (F Mey 29); F Vaccari, D Passarella, A Fusari, F Lazzarin; G Sante (N Teneggi 68), A Garbisi (A Cuoghi 74); L Rizzoli (R Bartolini 74), L Frangini (T Scramoncin 66), R Genovese (M Bernardinello 74), A Ortombina (C Berlese 62-71), R Andreoli, G Cenedese (D Odiase 50), R Vintcent, G Ferrari (captain).
Scotland U20: R Mc Clintock (K Clark 53); R McKnight, D Munn (T Glendinning 73), A Stirrat, B Evans; C Townsend, M Redpath (J Gelderbloom 34-40, 55); M Jones (A Rogers 74), G Hiddleston (D Hood 41), G Scougall (C Norrie 41), J Taylor, M Williamson (I Hill 53), M Deehan (R Brown 66, M Deehan 68), T Brown, R Tait (captain).
Referee: A Barrett-Theron (South Africa).