SCOTLAND put in a performance in Dublin and snatched an uneasy win in Turin but back in the familiar environment of Murrayfield Vern Cotter’s men managed the happy knack of producing both at the same time to overwhelm and humiliate an ordinary Italian side.
The Scots scored a total of six tries on the day, four of which fell to the twin wingers, and they conceded one. Italy were poor but credit must go to the home team who played at a pace throughout that the visitors couldn’t begin to live with. Vern Cotter has a vision of high-tempo, skilful, full-court rugby and we got our first glimpse of what it looks like yesterday afternoon. Having selected what was close to his best XV it was no surprise that many of the players on show made a good case for inclusion.
David Denton not only carried with his habitual enthusiasm but he has added a neat little “Toony flick” to his repertoire. This looks like Scotland’s best available front row and sure enough they earned four scrum penalties in the first half alone (and lost one). John Barclay won the breakdown penalty that put Scotland 16-0 ahead just inside the half-hour mark and he scored the Scots’ second try. His vast experience could yet come in useful.
Finn Russell was his usual self, mixing the excellent with the ordinary but doing both with the same air of absolute confidence which rubs off on everyone else. Mark Bennett ran hard and picked some cracking good lines on his return from shoulder surgery, even if he wasn’t always on the exact same wavelength as his midfield partner Peter Horne, who enjoyed another busy afternoon before limping off on 50 minutes
Stuart Hogg was lively throughout, almost putting Tim Visser over at the start of the second half. So too was skipper Greig Laidlaw who, with the match already won, injected some pace into proceedings after the break, although the scrummy might have been better off holding on to the ball instead of kicking it dead, especially when Scotland threatened a 14-man Italy in the dying moments of the first 40.
The forwards stopped one menacing Italian maul but conceded a penalty in another but at least they showed penetration with that same tactic themselves, scoring one try and marching the Italian pack backwards on several occasions.
Just as they did last week, Scotland raced into a healthy lead, 10-0 to the good after as many minutes, thanks largely to a dominant scrum. Three times the referee awarded a set scrum and three times the Scots emerged with a penalty.
Laidlaw knocked the second of them through the posts and Finn Russell knocked the third of them into the Italian 22 for an attacking lineout.
Several plays later, with the Scots going nowhere very fast, the fly-half dinked a kick in behind the blue shirts. Sean Lamont claimed the ball in the air and stayed inside the field of play before brushing off the last-ditch challenge from scrum-half Gugliemo Palazzani to score the first try of the match.
They didn’t have much to say for themselves but at least the visitors spotted a good thing when they saw it as they took a leaf from Scotland’s playbook for their first and last try on the half-hour mark. The Scots had stopped an Italian maul illegally and, with a penalty advantage coming their way, Tommaso Allan chipped over the Scotland line when a comedy of errors ensued.
One Italian tripped on his way before Visser slapped the ball against Laidlaw’s head and the ricochet fell into the grateful arms of Italy’s Michele Campagnaro.
The half ended with Francesco Minto being shown yellow for collapsing a Scotland maul. On the basis that if you have your heel on the opposition’s throat you press home the advantage, the Scots set up another maul from an attacking lineout and this time Barclay came up with the five-pointer and Laidlaw added the extras to give Scotland a 23-7 lead at the break.
Visser continued the scoring spree eight minutes into the second half when the Scots kicked for the corner and drove for the line. With the forwards being held short, the ball was whipped wide by Russell, who picked out the unmarked winger for a simple score.
The usual slew of substitutes arrived either side of the hour mark but they did little to disrupt Scotland’s almost total dominance in this match which was underlined when Lamont, Visser and Bennett all scored interception/breakaway tries in the final quarter of the match, Bennett’s being the last play of the afternoon.
It never rains but it pours and the Italians were reduced to 14 men for the final ten minutes when replacement prop Michele Rizzo was caught stamping the head/neck of Gordon Reid. It should have been a red card and may still be once the citing commissioner takes a gander.
By the end of the match even the Italians’ main weapon, the rolling maul, was knocked backwards by a determined home pack and a Scottish voice came over the ref link loud and clear: “That’s f**king awesome lads, that’s f**king awesome.”
And so it was.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Lamont (2), Barclay, Visser (2), Bennett. Cons: Laidlaw (2), Russell. Pens: Laidlaw (3). Italy: Try: Campagnaro. Pen: Allan.
Scotland: Hogg (Jackson 69), Lamont, Bennett, Horne (Scott 51), Visser; Russell, Laidlaw (Pyrgos 65); Dickinson (Reid 63), Ford (McInally 56), Nel (Welsh 63), Gray, Gilchrist (Harley 61), Wilson, Barclay (Cowan 61), Denton.
Italy: McLean, Esposito (Masi 51) Campagnaro, Morisi, Sarto; Allan, Palazzani; Aguero (Rizzo 33), Ghiraldini (Manici 65), Catrogiovanni (Christolini 55), Fuser (Geldenhuys 55), Furno, Zanni, Minto (Bergamasco 65), Vunisa.
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR).