Scotland Edge Past Italy

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Updated: Mar 21, 2023 10:54 am

Scotland 26 v 14 Italy

Scotland survived a late Italian onslaught to end their Six Nations on a high with a bonus point victory. Leading 19-6 early in the second half, Scotland appeared to be coasting to a comfortable win, but not for the first time in this tournament, Italy refused to lie down. Tommy Allan’s try and the boot of Paolo Garbisi hauled Italy within five points, and they were hammering away at the Scottish line in the closing moments. But a knock-on at the crucial moment evaporated Italy’s chances, and to rub salt in the wounds, Scotland scored a stunning try that started on their own line, Blair Kinghorn finishing the move to seal his hat trick.

Kinghorn produced an impressive display standing in for Finn Russell, showing his pace and power near the try line and surely cementing his place as Russell’s understudy. It wasn’t a vintage Scotland performance, but victory ensured them a third-place finish, even if they made life difficult for themselves. For Italy, it was a defeat that embodied their championship, close but no cigar, the crucial moments going against them. The Azzurri end the tournament winless, but their daring comeback effort shows the spirit of Kieran Crowley’s group. Three times in the tournament, Italy have trailed 19-6 and roared back into contention, but again they were occasionally the masters of their own downfall at Murrayfield.

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Much of the pre-match talk had revolved around how Scotland would fare without Russell, but Kinghorn settled any early nerves with a booming clearance kick. Italy started brightly and had the first opportunity for some points after some good work from Danilo Fischetti at the breakdown, but Allan’s effort strayed wide. Scotland struggled for rhythm in the early stages, while Italy kicked more than in previous weeks, playing with a refreshing pragmatism. Allan soon put Italy ahead with a penalty after a powerful maul, but some suicidal play from the restart soon had them on the back foot. Over-ambition from restarts has been Italy’s Achilles heel throughout the tournament, and Scotland didn’t waste their attacking platform.

After initially defending well against a Scottish maul, the Italians conceded another penalty, and the Scots opted to tap and go, Huw Jones eventually feeding Duhan van der Merwe out wide, the winger producing a stunning, acrobatic finish. It was then Scotland’s turn to be sloppy from the restart, conceding another penalty at the breakdown, and Allan’s penalty restored Italy’s lead. Once again, Italy looked to play from the deep, and a sloppy offside penalty from the eventual clearance kick led to a concerted spell of Scottish pressure as they laid siege to the Italian 22. Italy defended excellently and appeared to have repelled Scotland’s attack after Jamie Ritchie lost the ball forward, but they conceded a free kick from the scrum, handing Scotland the ball back.

Scotland’s pack won a series of scrum penalties, and referee Angus Gardner’s patience ran out, sending Marco Riccioni to the bin. With the visitors down to fourteen, the Scots took full advantage from the resulting scrum, Sione Tuipulotu’s clever dummy run allowing Kinghorn to squeeze over for the score. Scotland almost added another try before halftime, a brilliant line-out move setting Kyle Steyn free, but some excellent cover play by the debutant winger Simone Gesi thwarted his offload, and Scotland headed down the tunnel with just a six-point lead.

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Scotland would have been disappointed to have not been further ahead going into halftime, but they quickly extended their lead after the restart, Kinghorn blasting between Ignacio Brex and Sebastien Negri for his second try. Again, Kinghorn’s try all stemmed from Italy being over-ambitious from the restart. The Italian’s inaccuracy in attack was similarly hurting them, scrum-half Alessandro Fusco overthrowing his pass after a lovely break, while hooker Giacomo Nicotera overthrew a promising line-out position. Scotland’s defence was excellent throughout, conceding just three line breaks against an Italian attack that caused Ireland and France multiple problems.

However, Italy kept plugging away and aided by Scottish ill-discipline, they hauled themselves back into the match, Garbisi’s deft little grubber kick allowing Allen to dive over, narrowing the deficit to eight points. Crucially, Italy backed up their score with a solid exit, and they were soon within a score, Garibisi’s penalty setting up a tense conclusion. Italy’s attack was starting to threaten, with Pierre Bruno causing problems on the wing, and his clever chip and chase sparked a frantic minute. After turning over the ball, Ali Price stepped in with a vital intercept, racing free, but Italy’s defence scrambled well.

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The game started to become stretched, but Price’s kicking game started to pen Italy back. However, the Azzurri managed to work their way up field and forced a penalty, Garbisi’s pinpoint kick into the corner setting up a grandstand finish. Scotland conceded a couple of penalties as they clung on, but they were ultimately reprieved by an Italian knock-on, sparking scenes of relief around Murrayfield. However, Scotland weren’t done, and with a scrum advantage, they launched a stunning attack from their own line, Van der Merwe streaking down the touchline and feeding Kinghorn on his inside for the bonus point score.

Scotland’s victory tempers some of the disappointment that lingered after their defeats against France and Ireland. Ultimately, Scotland were able to dig out the win, something that will please Gregor Townsend as Scotland have often been guilty of losing close encounters in the past. After the euphoria of the first two rounds, Scotland’s Six Nations plateaued slightly, but there are some more than encouraging signs, with their backline among the most potent in world rugby. Scotland are stuck in the group of death at the World Cup, alongside Ireland and South Africa, but they’ll travel to France with quiet optimism. Townsend’s men have shown they can match the world’s best in patches; they just need to find consistency over eighty minutes.

Despite Italy’s heartening and exciting displays, it was another winless Six Nations, consigning them to the wooden spoon. Italy’s attacking approach is as exhilarating as it is frustrating, and their tendency to shoot themselves in the foot reared its head again on Saturday. Head Coach Kieran Crowley aptly summed up their tournament after the game: “If you look at all five games, we’ve had opportunities but haven’t effected them”. If Italy can match their ambition with greater accuracy, then they could really start causing some upsets. Italy’s resurgence has been brilliant for the championship, and this is undoubtedly the fittest Italian side I’ve seen, competing right till the end in every game. Victories may elude them, but the future looks bright for Italian rugby.

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