SCORERS: Italy - Allan try, con, 2 pens, Furno try, Orquera con; Scotland - Dunbar 2 tries, Laidlaw 2 pens, Weir con, drop goal
After trailing 13-3 half time, Scotland lifted themselves off the canvas to record a rare win on the road in the Six Nations, thanks to a brace of quite brilliant tries from outside centre Alex Dunbar and a 40-metre drop goal from stand-off Duncan Weir at the very death of this nail-biting match. After all the brickbats he copped following the England match, Weir showed enormous composure when it mattered most.
It was a dramatic finale to a match that was pretty ordinary for much of the afternoon. A Scottish win looked highly unlikely at the half-way stage but this match proved to be a slow burner that exploded into life with three tries in the final 30 minutes as the lead changed hands several times before Weir’s final kick to nothing stole both points and plaudits for the visitors.
If the Scots dominated possession and territory, it was thanks in part to a functioning lineout, where they won every one of their throws and stole a couple of the Italians’. The woes continued, though, in the set scrum where they conceded a bundle of penalties, four in the first half which partly explained the 10-2 penalty count at half time. Geoff Cross replaced Moray Low just before half time and it proved an inspired change, with the Scots arguably dominating the late scrums.
Almost inevitably this match was teed up for Tommasso Allan to make his mark, and so he did for better or worse. The stand-off, who grew up sporting the navy blue of Scotland, scored all of Italy’s 13 first-half points thanks to two penalties and the conversion of his own try which came immediately before half time. After the break he was guilty of missing a crucial tackle on Sean Lamont in the build-up to Dunbar’s second try.
With Italy leading 6-3, Allan’s try looked like a game-changer, coming as it did just before the half-time break. Instead it proved to be just the kick in the backside that Scotland needed, because they dominated the second half, which they won 18-7.
Italy won an attacking set scrum which they wheeled to give Sergio Parisse a clear run at the line. He went past Chris Fusaro, who was glued to the side of the scrum, and, while the Italian skipper was halted, the ball was made available and the giant second row Josh Furno sent his stand-off over the line, taking several Scots with him. Allan’s conversion of his own try marked the end of the first half with Italy 13-3 to the good and looking well in control of events.
The Scots obviously thought otherwise. Needing to score first just to stay in contention, the visitors came out for the second half with renewed urgency and they spent much of it in the Italian half, so when Fusaro won a penalty at the breakdown Greig Laidlaw made no mistake from the tee.
The skipper’s next move was a little less impressive, taking a quick tap penalty and failing to score when another three points were there for the taking.
But the Scots were far from finished, and Dunbar struck twice in the space of 14 minutes after Scotland had gone four matches without a try. You know what they say about buses.
The visitors pressured Italian scrum-half Edoardo Gori into losing possession deep inside his own half and moved the ball quickly to the right, where they had numbers over. Hogg sent Dunbar through a gaping hole and the outside centre showed everyone a clean pair of heels on his way to scoring in the corner.
Trailing by just two points, the conversion proved beyond Laidlaw, but the Scots enjoyed their best period of the game, keeping the ball and stringing several long phases together until Dunbar struck again straight from a set scrum.
Chris Cusiter fed Lamont, who ran right over the top of Allan. The big winger gave the ball back inside to Cusiter, who sent Dunbar steaming towards the line with a pass that the Roman crowd was convinced had travelled forward.
The centre had plenty of work still to do and had his midfield partner Matt Scott alongside him, but Dunbar backed himself and made the line, if only just.
Weir kicked the simple conversion, the Scots had a five-point lead and 12 minutes to defend it… they managed just two. A long series of Italian attacks saw Furno charge over in the corner. Luciano Orquera, on for Allan, kicked the touchline conversion and the Scottish forwards were left desperately manoeuvring to get Weir into position for a drop goal, which he eventually kicked from 40-odd yards out with exactly 12 seconds left on the clock.
There was time to kick the restart but none for anything else, and the stunned crowd could hardly believe what they had witnessed. The Italian team huddled together before leaving the field without offering the traditional round of applause for their visitors, who thoroughly deserved it.
Italy: McLean; Esposito, Campagnaro, Garcia, Sarto; Allan, Gori; De Marchi (Aguero 57 min) Ghiraldini (Giazzon 57 min), Castrogiovanni (Cittadini 57 min), Geldenhuys, Furno, Zanni. Barbieri, Parisse.
Scotland: Hogg; Seymour (Evans 55 min), Dunbar, Scott, Lamont; Weir, Laidlaw (Cusiter 64 min), Grant (Dickinson 58 min), Lawson, Low (Cross 38 min), Gray, Hamilton, Wilson, Fusaro (Denton 51 min), Beattie.
Referee: S Walsh (Australia). Attendance: 66,271.