Scotland rediscover their bite
February 9, 2013
Scotland's Matt Scott races away to score much to the delight of his team-mate Stuart Hogg © PA Photos
After what has seemed like years in the doldrums, Scotland are now an attacking force once again.
Four tries against an Italy side that even the talent-heavy French struggled to break down took their tally to six and so they already have already eclipsed the four that they managed in the whole of last year's Six Nations.
The fact that those tries came from four different backs also suggested that a part of the Scottish game so long lacking vision and precision may at last possess the kind of cutting edge that will worry even the most regimented of defences.
They also showed that they are quick learners with a powerful display that not only earned them an impressive victory but promised so much more. Bullied by England at Twickenham last weekend they raised the physicality level to silence an Italian side renowned for their refusal to take a step backwards.
Italy were the side expected to be fuelled by belief and brimming with confidence but instead it was the Scots who attacked this contest with renewed vigour and crowd-pleasing endeavour.
Controlled aggression was the order of the day and a fired-up Scotland pack ensured their rivals did not have the time and space that France afforded them in Rome. They attacked the breakdown with a hunger that belied their recent run of results and crucially maintained that effort throughout with a gutsy second half showing shackling an Italian side intent on retaining at least some of the priceless momentum they earned on the opening weekend with victory over France.
Scotland interim coach Scott Johnson may not be a huge fan of statistics - recently comparing them to a bikini as they "show a lot but not the whole thing" - but even he will have to acknowledge the efforts of some of his players with tight-head prop Euan Murray leading the way with a momentum-sapping 15 tackles. But he was not the only warrior with flanker Rob Harley, in only his first start for his country, arguably a little hard done by not to win the Man of the Match honour having been a significantly-sized thorn in the Italians' side all afternoon.
The grunt they provided laid the platform for the Scotland back division to click through the gears and score four tries against Tier 1 opposition for the first time since they grabbed five against Ireland in a Rugby World Cup warm-up clash in 2007. They showed glimpses of what they could do against the All Blacks in the autumn and when England released their vice-like grip on last weekend's game - and there was more evidence of a bright future with scrum-half Greig Laidlaw controlling proceedings. But fullback Stuart Hogg was the pick of the bunch having delivered another eye-catching display to cement his status as one of the brightest talents in the game. A length-of-the-field run having picked off a loose pass by Italy fly-half Luciano Orquera showcased his game-breaking pace that may well carry him all the way onto the British & Irish Lions' plane to Australia later this year.
What could be a season-defining score from Hogg came as a result of a rare moment of flair from Orquera who was a shadow of the player who tormented France last time out. His form deserted him under the immense pressure exerted by the Scots and with it went Italy's chances of recording three successive Six Nations victories for the first time ever having accounted for the Scots in the final round of last year's championship.
The Italians grew increasingly frustrated at Scotland's efforts to control the contest but to their credit maintained their discipline and continued to hammer away. However, without an in-form playmaker to provide a moment of magic and with the Scotland defence offering little change, they struggled to create an opening. A lack of variation also proved costly and even the usually faultless Sergio Parisse struggled to impose himself under the Scottish onslaught.
In the end they were brought crashing down to earth and left to reflect on a record Six Nations defeat to the Scots. Consistency is the key to long-term success and is proving elusive for the Italians with the severity of this defeat undoing much of the good work they have done of late - most notably at the Stadio Olimpico last weekend. And as long as they continue to failure in their attempts to back up an heroic performance with another showing of similar quality they will remain an also-ran in the Six Nations and on the global stage as a whole.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.