Six Nations: Italy 13 - 6 Scotland: Sad Scots beaten and bewildered
IT WAS a suitably downbeat ending to a thoroughly dispiriting Six Nations for Scotland, who reserved their worst for last with a performance in Rome that rarely rose above the mediocre and wasn’t even that good for much of the match.
Had this been a boxing bout the Scots would have thrown in the towel after four or five rounds which, frankly, would have been something of a blessing for the long-suffering fans who were stifling yawns from the off.
Andy Robinson was surely stifling a torrent of red-blooded expletives after his side once again earned themselves an “assist” for aiding and abetting in their own demise. The players repeated the same old mistakes so often that this match might well have been a re-run of any one of their previous four outings. Not one but two yellow cards were flashed at the Scots by referee Alain Rolland, each as dumb and unnecessary as the other, with Nick De Luca (not for the first time) and Jim Hamilton the culprits. The team has received more yellow cards all season (five) than they have scored tries (four), which says it all.
The only try of this match arrived early in the second half, with De Luca sidelined, when winger Gio Venditti brushed aside half-hearted tackles from Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg. These players were brought in to add a cutting edge in attack but were utterly unable to spark the Scots into life, although Dr Frankenstein would have struggled to do so yesterday. One solitary try would have allowed the Scots to salvage something from the season but it was too much to ask because they rarely threatened the Italian 22, never mind the Azzurri’s try line.
After the disruption of losing De Luca just before kick-off in Dublin, Scotland lost veteran Allan Jacobsen just minutes ahead of this match after the roly-poly prop turned his ankle in the warm-up. It meant a first cap for Glasgow favourite Jon Welsh who did a pretty decent job of handling the hirsute figure of Martin Castrogiovanni.
The Scots won a free kick at the first set scrum, a penalty at another and they earned three points thanks to one quite brilliant set scrum on 34 minutes which marched the Italians back so fast that David Denton at the back struggled to keep up. Laidlaw sent the equalising penalty just over the bar from fully 48 metres.
Sadly for the visitors, the other set piece work was nowhere near as good. The Scots lost three lineouts in the first quarter and they turned over another three in the second half, including two crucial attacking ones deep inside the Italian 22. Until Dublin the Scots had a 100 per cent success rate at the sidelines so the hows and whys of the wayward arrows is a story in itself.
Robinson’s shock troops were just shocking. They edged in front of the kicker at the restart, following Mirco Bergamasco’s early penalty, and they coughed up dangerous turnovers when Ross Ford and Denton both lost the ball in contact. Italy feed off other sides’ mistakes and they duly gorged themselves on a smorgasbord of Scottish errors.
At one point in the first half Denton found himself isolated and one Scot, unhappy with the call, made Bergamasco’s penalty attempt ten yards easier by telling referee Rolland where he was going wrong.
Thankfully the Italian winger was wayward in front of sticks, managing just one from three in the first half and he duly gave way to Kris Burton after the break. His woeful strike rate was pretty much the only thing that kept the Scots in the hopelessly one-sided first half.
After dominating their opposition at the start of the Six Nations, the blue forwards were on the back foot from the off yesterday in Rome, losing the crucial battle of the breakdown where the Italians gave their visitors an old-fashioned roasting, showing all the urgency and accuracy that was absent from the Scots who shone only as isolated individuals.
Mike Blair had to make a tackle on the giant lock Quintin Geldenhuys and duly did so and John Barclay charged down an attempted drop goal from Burton. Denton, Gray and Rennie worked hard in defence but the momentum was always with the Azzurri who spent huge stretches of this match camped deep inside the Scottish half and were in no hurry to move out of the neighbourhood.
Reduced to 14 men, the Scots’ second half got off to the worst possible start with Venditti’s try followed by more misery when Laidlaw missed a tricky touchline penalty from the restart. A second penalty from Laidlaw on 60 minutes offered a glimmer of hope, especially when flanker Alessandro Zanni left the field for ten minutes and passed Hamilton on his way back into the action, giving the visitors a rare one-man advantage.
Robinson threw on the reserves, Ruaridh Jaskson, Richie Vernon and Al Kellock but he might have been whistling Dixie for all the difference they made and Burton added another three points with a late drop goal to rub salt in the wound.
The visitors never looked remotely good or hungry enough to drag themselves back into contention and Scotland picked up their first whitewash since Matt Williams earned that unhappy honour back in 2004.
Scorers: Italy: Try: Venditti. Conv: Burton. Pen: Bergamasco. DG: Burton. Scotland: Pens: Laidlaw 2.
Italy: Masi, Venditti, Benvenuti, Canale (Toniolatti 68 min), Bergamasco; Burton, Gori; Lo Cicero (Cittadini 52), Ongaro (D’Apice 56), Castrogiovanannni (Lo Cicero 66), Geldenhuys, Bortolami, Zanni, Barbieri (Vosawai 56), Parisse.
Scotland: Hogg, Evans, De Luca, Morrison, Lamont; Laidlaw (Jackson 69), Blair; Welsh, Ford, Cross (Murray 49), Gray, Hamilton (Kellock 55), Barclay (Vernon 69), Rennie, Denton.
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU). Attendance: 72,354.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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