Scotland head coach Steve McCormack believes there is more to come from his side after overseeing yet another nailbiting World Cup encounter.
The Bravehearts followed up their thrilling 26-24 victory over Tonga at Derwent Park on Tuesday with a 30-30 draw against Italy in Group C at the same venue to remain undefeated.
McCormack was thrilled with the effort of his side, but believes they are capable of improving ahead of their clash against the United States – a match they must win to boost their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages. “As a team that’s twice in four days that we’ve given absolutely everything,” said McCormack/ “If we can mix that with a bit of skill like we’ve shown, then we’ve got a chance of getting to the quarter-finals on Thursday.”
The Danny Brough-inspired Bravehearts appeared to be on course for victory after taking a 14-0 lead but Italy came roaring back. McCormack’s men kept their noses in front up until the hour mark in front of a 7,280 pro-Scotland crowd but they looked increasingly jaded in the second half and Italy took advantage to move into a 30-26 lead. But the Azzurri were hit on the break and Ben Hellewell grounded in the right corner to earn Scotland a deserved point that could prove crucial to their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.
In contrast to the second half, scoring chances were few and far between in a cagey opening period and, perhaps sensing that opportunities would be at a premium, Brough opted to take two points after a late challenge on scrum-half Peter Wallace. He need not have worried as two tries in the space of five minutes put McCormack’s men firmly in the ascendancy.
First, Matthew Russell, Scotland’s two-try hero on Tuesday night, slipped out of a tackle before crashing over and although there was uncertainty over whether he had grounded the ball, the full-back was given the benefit of the doubt by the video referee. There was an element of fortune in Scotland’s second try as Brough’s grubber wrong- footed Italy wing Joshua Mantellato, which allowed Kane Linnett to scoop up the loose ball and cross in the left corner. The influential Brough converted both tries to give the Bravehearts a 14-0 lead, but Italy were no strangers to fighting back from losing positions, having done so against both England and Wales.
They came storming back as Cameron Ciraldo reacted quickest to ground the ball after he had unknowingly kicked Ryan Ghietti’s grubber forward.
Buoyed by the try, Italy exerted fierce pressure on Scotland and their persistence was rewarded when Raymond Nasso held off the challenge of several challenges to touch down near the posts, with Mantellato adding his second conversion to cut the deficit to 14-12 at half-time.
Not for the first time in this tournament, Scotland demonstrated their resolve by storming out of the blocks at the beginning of the second half, with Danny Addy pouching Brough’s high kick and exchanging passes with Brett Carter before touching down unopposed.
The deficit was cut to two points once more when Nasso drove over for his second converted try but after soaking up more pressure from Italy, Scotland exposed Italy down the right with Carter passing inside for Hellewell to cross.
Brough maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot, but the see-saw momentum continued as Chris Centrone scored for Italy after a flowing passing move along the left.
At 26-24 ahead, Scotland were starting to tire as the game entered its final quarter. Italy took the lead for the first time when captain Anthony Minichiello dived over on the right.
But Scotland refused to give in and caught Italy on the break. Hellewell took advantage of an Azurri defence that were at sixes and sevens, but Brough missed his first conversion of the game and, at 30-30 with 10 minutes remaining, a grandstand finish was assured. The Huddersfield stand-off then failed with a drop goal attempt in the final 90 seconds, while Ghietti did likewise at the other end as the spoils were shared.