SCOTLAND scored four tries in the championship for the first time in a decade and yet had only 38 per cent possession to Italy’s 62 per cent.
They achieved their most commanding win since five countries became half a dozen at the turn of the millennium but still had to make more than double the number of tackles their visitors made. Numbers, numbers. Who cares? They won. They won big. And the relief around Murrayfield? Well, that really was something to see.
In the aftermath, Scott Johnson was his wise-cracking self, but his good humour never strayed into over-exuberance. Time and again he stated that this was just one win and for all the good that he saw out there he saw plenty of bad, too.
He could have singled out any number of players for mention, but the one he went with wasn’t a marquee act, not a line-breaker or a try-scorer or one of a back five unit in the scrum that helped win all the collisions by as big a margin yesterday as they lost them a week earlier at Twickenham. Johnson spoke instead of Ryan Grant, the coalface man.
“Some kids surprise you,” he said. “Very rarely do I sit up here and extol the virtues of one single player but there are things you wouldn’t know. Ryan was in a lot of pain from very early in the game. A lot of pain. And he toughed it out against a really formidable pack. It just says so much about the person. He didn’t want to come off (until the hour-mark) and not only did he not want to come off then, but he did his job.”
There were some reputations redeemed in the face of huge pressure. Euan Murray got flak after England. Different ball game yesterday. Murray made 15 tackles, Kelly Brown made 15 tackles, Matt Scott in the midfield made 14. As much as Scotland destroyed Italy on the scoreboard, they had to work like demons to get there. Those tackle stats don’t tell anything like the full story, but they give you an insight into the number of hits that were required on the day.
“That scoreboard can switch pretty quickly,” said Johnson, referring to the moment when Stuart Hogg intercepted in his own half and sped away to score at the other end. “A 14-point swing right there. I keep saying that if we’re getting our part right we can put teams away because we’ve got a potent backline and we’ve got ability to put sides away
“But we’ve still got to do our work. We can’t be chimneys, you know. Keep blowing smoke where it shouldn’t be. We’ve got to keep improving. We’re in a tournament here. And today’s result puts us right in it.”
Johnson wasn’t in the mood to sing from the rooftops. His tone was measured, if not low-key. Rob Harley had a fine debut but the coach didn’t exactly trumpet his success. “Rob did some good things. He did. But it’s funny he had an opportunity in the first few minutes to really make a mark and he missed a tackle. I’d have put a lot of money on him making a forceful impact. He did some really good things but once again there will be an honesty call there. We’re striving to get better and better and better.”
There were plaudits for the captain, Kelly Brown, who is a winner at last in the leadership role. And for Greig Laidlaw. “He didn’t stand in front of the queue for athleticism, but he did in mind. He’s got great resolve and I’m very pleased with him and his development.
“We showed we can score points and put pressure on the opposition and that’s a good part. But sometimes the scoreboard hides some ills and we’ll be honest about that. There was some really good stuff and Ireland will be another step up. I have a feeling they’ll get over the line against England and they will be coming here looking for a championship. But it’s in our own hands now and that’s a pretty good place to be.”
An infinitely better place than the hole they were in this time last week.