Scotland bounced back from a half-time deficit to beat Italy in Manchester and set up another clash with Australia in the fifth-place semi-final play-off at the World U20 Championship as they attempt to better last season’s eighth-place finish. It was the first time at this age group that Scotland had won two matches in the pool stages of the tournament, having earlier recorded a 15-10 win over the young Wallabies.
It was nip and tuck in the first 40 but the Scots found another gear in the second half scoring three tries, two of which came in the space of four minutes to put clear blue water between the two teams. A final touchdown from No8 Ally Miller secured the all-important bonus point to edge Scotland up to nine championship points.
A resilient Italian side refused to lie down. They scored a second-half try around the hour mark to hold onto the Scots’ coat tails and another came from winger Pierre Bruno but too late to make a difference to the final result, at least after the touchline conversion drifted wide.
If this Scottish win looked regulation it was anything but and coach John Dalziel has work to do before the Scots play Australia in Salford on Monday evening.
Italy were winless going into this game but the sight of a white thistle gets the Azzurri rubbing their hands in anticipation and yesterday was no different. The Italians fought all the way and were perhaps a little unlucky, especially given the nature of Scotland’s second, all-important try.
The young Scots were defending a precarious one-point advantage and found themselves under the cosh early in the second half. One loose clearance kick looked like it would fall perfectly for Luca Sperandio only for the Italian winger to guddle the ball straight into the arms of his opposite number and Harlequins’ winger Robbie Nairn showed everyone a clean pair of heels up the right flank.
Four minutes later Blair Kinghorn, restored to full-back and back to his best, dived over in the left-hand corner after the Scottish skipper Scott Cummings made the initial break in the Italian defensive line and the Scots, who had been trailing by two at the break, found themselves 14 points ahead 14 minutes into the second half.
The first half had been a stop-start, error strewn affair with neither side able to string anything very much together.
The Italians struggled in the lineout but increasingly dominated the set scrums the longer this game lasted.
The Scots enjoyed the better of the first quarter, when prop Murray McCallum opened the scoring with a short-range try following a canny break from stand-off Adam Hastings.
Overall the Scots made far too many unforced errors and, when the Italian set piece turned the screw, they conceded a slew of soft penalties, every one of which cost them possession and territory.
In one small cameo Kinghorn missed touch with a kick, the Italians over-cooked the lineout throw before the Scots lost the ball in their first contact.
The Italians ignored the posts and kicked for the corner and the tactic eventually paid off when No8 Giovanni Licata burrowed over from short range.
The tighthead prop Daniel Rimpelli scored the Italian’s second try in similar fashion around 60 minutes. That score dragged Italy to within six points of the Scots but a further try from Miller, following another knock on from an Italian winger, earned the bonus point try and Bruno’s late try three minutes from time was no more than a consoling pat on the back for the Azzurri.