Scotland Six Nations campaign can finish with flourish in Ireland - but only if they deliver ‘complete performance’
Beating Italy is one thing, ending Scotland’s 12-year wait for a win in Dublin is quite another and George Turner has called for a “complete performance” at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
The hooker made a successful return to Gregor Townsend’s starting XV in Rome on Saturday, playing a key role in the visitors’ 33-22 triumph.
Scotland scored five good tries at the Stadio Olimpico to rack up their first bonus point victory in the Six Nations since they defeated the same opponents at Murrayfield last season.
But it wasn’t all bellissimo in the Italian capital as the Azzurri scored three tries in a Six Nations match for the first time in over two years.
Townsend called it “a proper Test match” but it was, as La Gazzetta Sportivo noted ruefully on Sunday, the “36th knockout blow” in a row for Italy. Their losing run in the championship extends beyond seven years and anything other than a win for Scotland on Saturday would have been calamitous.
As it was, they did it with a bit of swagger, playing fast and loose at times to notch tries through Sam Johnson, Chris Harris (two), Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg.
Kieran Crowley, the home coach, bemoaned the number of tackles his side missed and the official statistics put the figure at 40. Ireland are unlikely to be as profligate.
“We’re going to need that absolutely complete performance, that’s for sure, nothing else is going to do away in Dublin,” said Turner who instigated the move which led to Johnson’s opening try.
“They’re a huge team in contact and setpiece, and we felt we weren’t up to our best standards in that area against France. But we have competed physically with powerful teams like England and France before and there’s no reason why we can’t do it against Ireland.
“We all know what’s coming from Ireland, there will be a lot of phases from them, putting us under pressure and we have to stay patient and trust in our defence, keep our discipline.
“On Saturday there were sometimes elements in the contact that weren’t quite right, we made a couple of bad decisions or went on our own too much once or twice. We can’t afford to do that against Ireland.”
A particular concern was the way Scotland allowed Italy to come back into the match during the last 20 minutes.
Hogg’s try, converted by Finn Russell, had put the visitors 33-10 going into the final quarter but Italy salvaged some pride and hope for the future with two scores from young substitute Ange Capuozzo, who was making his international debut.
It could be argued that the match was already won before the Grenoble player’s late brace but Townsend was left frustrated by Scotland’s sloppy finish.
Turner preferred to focus on the positives as his side posted their first win in the tournament since beating England on the opening weekend. Any hopes of a genuine title bid were scuppered by back-to-back losses to Wales and France but Scotland will head to Dublin in the knowledge they can emulate last season’s haul of three victories.
“It’s great to get a win, it makes next week’s prep much easier with the confidence that you get from that,” said Turner. “It wasn’t the complete performance from us, but it was good at times and we know what we have to work on this week.
“This is not an easy place to play and Italy are a passionate team, so to win with five tries was very gratifying.”
Scotland expected an early onslaught from Italy and dealt with it accordingly, conceding only three points through a Paolo Garbisi penalty. The visitors then seized control with two tries in the space of five minutes.
Turner sparked the first with a surge up the right flank, before man of the match Ali Price took it on. Graham then fed Russell who picked out Johnson with a perfect looping pass and the recalled centre did the rest.
“I was just hanging out there on the wing a bit much I suppose!,” smiled Turner. “Got the ball and had a decent break down the touchline and Ali popped up on my inside.”
The second try, scored by Harris, was created by Price’s brilliant interception close to his own line. The scrum-half, winning his 50th cap for Scotland, delivered a performance to make his watching family proud and it was fitting that he was sent up to collect the Cuttitta Cup at full-time.
“Ali is always a great leader and he’s our leader in attack,” added Turner. “He had a great game on Saturday, his pace and his breaks were outstanding. He also kept them honest with his kicking game. The intercept was a key one. We know we can hit from anywhere on the field when we get it right and that was a good example.”
Although Italy got a try back through scrum-half Callum Braley, Scotland extended their lead with Harris’ second score just before half-time. Second-half tries from Graham and Hogg put the match beyond Italy’s reach but the home side at least managed to finish with a flourish.
The Scotland bandwagon now rolls on to Dublin where they have never won since Lansdowne Road morphed into the Aviva Stadium. Their last victory in the city came in 2010 when Ireland were using Gaelic games citadel Croke Park as their temporary home.
Scotland are looking for a first win over Ireland in Townsend’s tenure but the home side have something more tangible to aim for.
While the Grand Slam is France’s to lose, the Irish know that any slip up by Les Bleus against England in Paris next weekend would give them a crack at the title. Buoyed by their win over 14-man England on Saturday, Ireland will go into the game full of brio.
As Hogg noted on Saturday, Scotland will need to be at their “squeaky clean” best.
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