Scotland 19-22 Italy: Sloppy Scots pay the penalty

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Italy won a dramatic and thrilling match or, to be strictly accurate, Scotland lost it. The home team were in front from the first minute to the last but somehow still finished second. They enjoyed leads of 10-0, 13-5 and 16-8 at various times but whenever the Scots put clear blue water between themselves and the opposition they placed their feet on the desk and allowed the Italians right back into this match.

Scorers: Scotland: Try: Bennett. Con: Laidlaw. Pens: Laidlaw 4. Italy: Tries: Furno, Venditti, penalty. Cons: Haimona, Allan. Pen: Haimona.

Scotland's Matt Scott (centre) dispondent after Scotland's defeat. Picture: Jane Barlow

Scotland's Matt Scott (centre) dispondent after Scotland's defeat. Picture: Jane Barlow

The grateful Azzurri didn’t need a second invitation. They arrived expecting to lose but once they had reeled in the home team as half-time approached, they markedly improved as the belief flooded back. Italy finished worthy winners at the death, especially in light of the 3-1 try count in their favour.

The final ten minutes were pure drama, albeit a tragedy for home fans, with the Scots desperately defending a four-point lead with their backs to the wall. On 72 minutes Italy earned a five metre lineout, they drove the ball over the Scotland line but failed to ground it. The Azzurri inched the ensuing scrum forward but it collapsed and Scotland won a penalty when the reset scrum collapsed.

Peter Horne then made the biggest blunder of his short international career; he missed touch. Instead of a Scotland possession on the halfway line, Italy had the ball back and they went in search of that winning score aided by Scottish indiscipline.

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The Scots coughed up a brainless penalty on the halfway line. Italy kicked for touch, drove the lineout and Ben Toolis was shown a yellow card for collapsing the maul. Italy kicked for touch, drove another lineout, with the help of most of the backs, and they were making good progress when Hamish Watson pulled it down. Referee George Clancy didn’t hesitate, signalling a penalty try before flashing another yellow at the young flanker. It was probably not the dream debut that Toolis and Watson had imagined but they will bounce back.

After scoring four in the opening two matches the only Scotland try came from Mark Bennett’s early interception which begs many questions. Horne played pretty well overall, excepting that last clearance kick, but he also played deep, well back from the advantage line, allowing Italy’s defence to drift early.

Scotland set their stall out in the opening exchanges, choosing to run the first possession they received inside their own 22 but overall the home team were guilty of playing a little too fast and loose. If you want to play the game at pace you have to be accurate and no one could accuse the Scots of that. At one point in the second half the coach Vern Cotter could be heard urging his team to “kick the f***ing thing”… five times …in quick succession.

The scrums were a shambles all game long thanks to the ineptitude of both front rows which was only matched by the incompetence of referee George Clancy. At one point the Irish official barked at the front rows like recalcitrant teenagers, “the attitude is terrible”, and the attitude wasn’t the only thing deserving of that tag.

If the Scots coughed up some dumb penalties, the Italians were not far behind. The first arrived exactly 18 seconds after kick off and the visitors kept them coming for most of first half. Laidlaw claimed three penalties in the first 40 and another one after the break, Scotland’s only points of the second half.

But Italy possess a muscular pack of forwards and Scotland can’t claim they weren’t warned. When the visitors won an attacking lineout, immediately after Bennett’s opening try, they tucked the ball up their jumpers and marched the Scottish pack back for 20 metres for Josh Furno to flop over the try line.

Laidlaw’s boot extended Scotland’s lead twice, on 17 and 26 minutes, but when Kelly Haimona lined up a penalty five minutes before the break, the Italians came away with an unexpected bonus. The penalty shot rebounded off the left upright and Laidlaw was too short to collect the bouncing ball which fell instead to the Italian winger Giovanbattista Venditti who touched the ball down on the white line just to the side of the left hand post for a try that was confirmed by the TMO. Haimona kicked the extras and Italy had made a Lazarus-like comeback.

Tommaso Allan, on at stand off for Haimona shortly after the restart, fluffed a simple chance to put Italy ahead and it wasn’t until the one hour mark that the Scots responded to that scare. The home side played some fluid rugby, attempting to construct a try from waves of pressure until Hogg was eventually sent over the Italian try line but only after a blatant forward pass from Sean Lamont.

Laidlaw’s fourth penalty gave Scotland a four-point advantage with 14 minutes left on the clock and Italy needed every one of them before claiming a famous win.

Scotland: Hogg; Seymour, Bennett (Scott 67) Dunbar, Lamont; Horne (Tonks 78), Laidlaw (Hidalgo-Clyne 74); Dickinson (Grant 67), Ford, Murray (Cross 74), Swinson (Toolis 69), J Gray, Harley, Cowan, Beattie (Watson 50).

Italy: McLean; Visentin (Bisegni 69), Morisi, Bacchin, Venditti; Haimona (Allan 44), Gori; Aguero (Manici 57), Ghiraldini (De Marchi 67) Christolini (Cittadino 57), Biagi (Fuser 67), Furno, Minto, Favaro (Vunisa 61), Parisse..

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU). Attendance: 62,188.

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