Scotland halted a miserable run of four consecutive losses with this last- gasp victory in Rome. Last summer the Scots got the better of Italy thanks to a try from Alasdair Strokosch that arrived with the very last play of the game.
Italy 20-21 Scotland
On Saturday in Rome it was the boot of Duncan Weir that rescued the Scots because the 22-year-old fly-half dropped a 40-metre goal with 12 seconds of time left on the clock. Referee Steve Walsh decreed that there was time to restart the game but there was time for nothing much else and the Scots hoofed the ball off the park to signal the start of the celebrations.
It was an odd game that swung one way and then the other. Italy raced into a 13-3 lead thanks to Tommy Allan, the fly-half who played age-grade rugby for Scotland. He was on the money with two first half penalties and a try with the final play of the first half which he converted to put Italy in the driving seat.
The Scots cut the penalty count, Laidlaw added a second penalty to sit alongside his first-half effort and Alex Dunbar, who came of age in this match, scored two cracking good tries to put Scotland in charge of their own destiny. They hadn’t long to enjoy their lead before the giant Italian lock, Josh Furno, was barrelling his way over the Scottish line and Luciano Orquera’s touchline conversion gave the home side a precious two-point lead with perhaps nine minutes left on the clock.
Eight and three quarters of those nine minutes were spent in a fruitless attempt by the Scottish forwards manufacture a drop-goal opportunity for their fly-half and when Weir finally managed to pull the trigger it was from a long way out. It never looked like missing and the cheer as it sailed through the posts speaks volumes for the vocal Scottish support who had made the long trip.
It was a moment of redemption for the fly-half whose woes against England were well documented. Weir had his fair share of trouble in the first half of this performance too, seeing one kick charged down by his opposite number and then being a little lucky that the match officials did not see his tug on Allan’s shirt. Weir also made a good break down the blind side but, with Sean Lamont in support outside of him, he deemed to cut inside, lost his footing and the chance of scoring a try. “I’m not going to get carried away with it (the win) just as I’m not going to get carried away with a loss”, said coach Scott Johnson in the aftermath of the team’s first Six Nations success this season. “There were good things in that game and I’m really happy for the boys that a little good fortune came their way. I was glad for that. Acknowledge what we did good and work on the things that we need to work on.
“Duncy (Weir) hasn’t been in that position before. He is playing in a key position and I am very glad for him. I’m glad that he’s learned that he can do that with composure. I can’t teach him that. He’s got to learn that. To get the win for him and to get the final kick, but I was really pleased that they scored just before half-time, similar to Ireland, with a 10-2 penalty count in the bag, I wasn’t sure who I’d be facing in that changing room at half time but to be fair we showed a bit of composure and we spoke about what we needed to do and I felt that we showed good resolve. That game could have just closed out but I thought it showed really good character. They (Italy) are hard to beat here. I was really proud of them.”
Johnson perhaps made the most important call of the afternoon by replacing the tighthead prop, Moray Low, with Geoff Cross just before half time. The Scots had conceded four penalties at the set scrum in the first half which cost them dear, they conceded none in the second and Cross, who has had just one start for Edinburgh all season, must fancy his chances of starting against France in a fortnight’s time.
The lineout also operated as per the instruction manual for the first time this season thanks in no small part to Scotland’s smallest player, Scott Lawson. His throws found their mark every time for a perfect 100 per cent record and Jim Hamilton even had the nous to steal a couple of Italy’s early throws.
He and Richie Gray now look certain to team up against a powerful French pack who will be smarting after their comprehensive hammering in Cardiff. Gray, making his first start of the tournament, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, a fact acknowledged by his coach.
“He did really good,” said Johnson. “You always see the glory work with Richie with the big blond hair, you see him easily but it’s the other work that I was more pleased with, the dark arts. He was good in the dark arts today. So for him he deserves congratulations because that’s what we want with a kid like him because his position requires the dark arts as well as the dirty work.
Johnson acknowledged that he has a few selection headaches to sort out before naming the XV to take on Les Blues, which will make a nice change for the coach.
Scorers: Italy: Tries: Allan, Furno. Cons: Allan, Orquera. Pens: Allan 2. Scotland: Tries: Dunbar 2. Cons: Weir. Pens: Laidlaw 2. Drop Goals: Weir.
Italy: McLean, Esposito, Campagnaro, Garcia, Sarto, Allan, Gori, De Marchi, Ghiraldini, Castrogiovanni, Geldenhuys, Furno, Zanni, Barbieri, Parisse. Replacements: Orquera for Allan (68), Botes for Gori (63), Aguero for De Marchi (57), Giazzon for Ghiraldini (57), Cittadini for Castrogiovanni (57), Bortolami for Zanni (73), Derbyshire for Barbieri (63).
Scotland: Hogg, Seymour, Dunbar, Scott, Lamont, Weir, Laidlaw, Grant, Lawson, M. Low, R. Gray, Hamilton, Wilson, Fusaro, Beattie. Replacements: Evans for Seymour (55), Taylor for Dunbar (72), Cusiter for Laidlaw (63), Dickinson for Grant (57), Denton for Fusaro (52).