Italy 0 - 17 Scotland: Gregor Townsend hails Stuart Hogg try as "world class"
The coach admitted it was far from a perfect performance by his team but hailed “a world-class score” from the captain, who scorched in from just inside his own half and left the Italian defence flat-footed to open the scoring in the first half.
“I’m very happy,” said Hogg, who has held his hands up to errors in the first two matches in Ireland and at home to England but could now reflect on a first win in this year’s championship.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard over the past couple of weeks to give ourselves every opportunity to win – and we’ve executed, in parts. The exciting thing is we can get better. But we’ll enjoy that one.
“The great thing is we’ve kept the home side to zero points, so I’m very, very pleased with that final outcome.”
On the try, which was added to by centre Chris Harris early and stand-off Adam Hastings late in the second half, the Exeter Chiefs star said: “It was very pleasing because it’s something we’ve worked on. We talk a lot about creating counter-attack ball with our kicking.
“We managed to manipulate the Italian back three, they kicked loosely – and that’s when we come alive against an unstructured defence.
“That’s when me and the other guys in the back three come alive. Thankfully it paid off.”
A few other chances were botched, which could have made the afternoon a lot more comfortable, including one in the second half when Hogg opted to cut in himself rather pop wing Sean Maitland in at the corner.
“You’ve picked up on the negative again,” said Hogg with a weary smile.
“We got ourselves in a good position. I maybe should have given it to Sean. But I backed myself to get through and, unfortunately in this case, it didn’t come.”
The shut-out was a big plus as new defence coach Steve Tandy’s influence continues to be made. Scotland have conceded just 24 points and two tries in their opening three games.
“I believe in the boys. We believe in the structures we’ve been given to play,” continued Hogg.
“Steve Tandy has worked incredibly hard on our defence and we believe in his philosophies. He brings enthusiasm to training every single day and his structures are unbelievable.
“The boys are executing it very well. We don’t feel stressed with our structures at all – and we back our ability to defend. To keep a side like Italy to zero points on their home ground is massive for us.”
More clinicism at the other end of the pitch remains a pressing challenge.
“I think we need to show more patience,” said Hogg. “The attack structure is there and we have players to get us into these positions. At times we just go a wee bit too early to try to score – and cough up the ball.
“When we’re patient and go through the phases as we did with the Chris Harris try, that was us in control. We were calm, composed and came away with the five points.
“That’s what we’re about. Now it’s about taking a huge amount of confidence from that into the France game [at BT Murrayfield a week on Saturday].”
Townsend said: “It was a world class try and he [Hogg] looked lively as well at other moments. I thought his decision at the back – when to have a run and when to put more kick pressure on Italy – was very good. It is brilliant for him to get that win as a captain, and to have a big part in that with his performance and his try.”
Asked what there was to build on in the remainder of the championship, the coach said: “A bit more fluency and accuracy in our attack.
“Our best performance was Ireland [a 19-12 loss in Dublin], but today was a win and that means a lot more than getting a losing bonus point.
“We know we can be better than we showed today in attack, but maybe that was part of the fixture and how important it was for us, and maybe something to do with being in Italy with a different atmosphere.
“We know we have to be better but lets build on the confidence this game gives us as we look to develop our attack in the last two games and play our best rugby.”