ROME proved to be a bewildering place off the field. There was one confused fan who marched to the game under the cross of St George.
Another gentleman sported the odd combination of a kilt and a Welsh rugby shirt and we were entertained just outside the Stadio Olimpico by a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise from what was presumably a group of French supporters. Oh, and the only kilt in the press box was worn by a proud Italian who had spent a year in Edinburgh and wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass.
The oddity didn’t stop short of the pitch. Scotland won, for the first time in five outings and after going an eye-popping 320 minutes of international rugby without scoring a try Alex Dunbar popped up with two. They were corkers too, the equal of anything else witnessed this last weekend.
The first came from an Italian turnover. The ball was moved swiftly wide and Stuart Hogg sent Dunbar through a hole in the Italian defence. There has been a suspicion that the Glasgow man might have been short a half yard of pace for the 13 channel but he proved he was no slouch on Rome’s hard track. Dunbar hit the afterburners and was swift enough to evade Tommy Allan’s tackle to score in the corner.
“I think the boys put in a great performance today,” said the quietly spoken midfielder after the match. “There were a lot of mistakes out there, especially in the first half. A lot of things didn’t go our way. It just shows the determination of the boys to go for the win.
“Obviously really happy after that (scoring two tries). There was a lot of good work done inside. Matt Scott, Sean Lamont, Hoggy, the backs created a lot today especially in the second half when we got some ball and we could play a bit more.
“We created a lot of chances and I was just fortunate enough that I found a gap and found enough gas to get there.”
Dunbar has been the less lauded of Scotland’s twin centres with Matt Scott regularly touted as one to watch but he came of age with his brace of tries in Rome. Scott Johnson has maintained for some time now that the pair would form a formidable partnership and the voluble Australian was singing the same song after Saturday’s match.
“Look, I keep saying that the centre combination will be the equal of anyone in the north (hemisphere) in the next couple of years,” said the Scotland coach. “This centre combination is going to be special. Trust me. I’ve been around a couple of good centre partnerships and this is going to emerge to be a really special one. Make no mistake about that.
“They are in their embryonic stages together. It’s quite unfair on Matt (Scott) that he is playing international rugby after ten weeks out with injury. We knew it was going to be a slow start to get off the blocks. I just felt it was a priority for these lads to get time in the saddle together. If that came at the expense of him (Scott) being a bit ropey then so be it. He’ll get better as the tournament gets going and I am really happy with that combination.”
There was a moment when Dunbar must have wondered if he would be awarded the second of his scores which came from a set scrum move straight off the training ground. Chris Cusiter was involved in the move twice and there was a suggestion of a forward pass from the little scrum-half when he sent Dunbar steaming towards the Italian line…at least we can assume that is what the Italian skipper Sergio Parisse was saying as he bent Steve Walsh’s lug.
The referee went “upstairs” to check on the pass and the one-eyed Roman crowd made their feeling clear when the action replay was re-run on the stadium’s big screens. Dunbar had a nervous few minutes as he waited confirmation.
“We went back for the kick off and I kinda thought has he awarded it yet?! I was just chuffed to get the try and I thought the pass was flat,” he said.
Thankfully for Scotland and the unassuming midfielder the TMO agreed.