Scotland end a long wait
March 19, 2011
Nikki Walker celebrates his second-half try © Getty Images
Casting your mind back to Scotland's last try at Murrayfield is a taxing pursuit. It was after the end of the last ice age, but before the invention of the wheel, right?
Joking aside, it has been a long wait for their fans. Losses to Wales and Ireland in this year's Championship were difficult affairs, blighted by errors, slack defence and a palpable lack of attacking prowess. That Italy's visit would be a wooden spoon decider was forecast as early as the second round and while a number of fans opted to stay away, those that made the effort saw Scotland finally break their duck and score a vital victory in the shadow of the Rugby World Cup.
Losing was not an option for Andy Robinson's side, who have been guilty this year of failing to justify the hype and positivity that abounded at the beginning of February. That they completed the job will be a relief for players and coaches alike, who would not have been able to raise much cheer heading into a vital few months had they repeated their 2007 capitulation.
Their World Cup group, where their main rivals are England and Argentina, is a taxing one. There may not be a Tri-Nations power to draw the headlines, but it is relatively evenly matched and therefore fiendishly difficult to navigate. Scotland must find a way to win their pivotal games in New Zealand and in the opening moments at Murrayfield on Saturday, they looked like they might have cracked the code.
Rather than using their pack to slug away at Italy, their heavy artillery was employed on strong angles from the playmaking of Rory Lawson and Ruaridh Jackson. Sean Lamont, Al Kellock, Richie Gray and John Barclay were all conspicuous as Italy were battered onto the back-foot. The problem arose when in sight of the line and in trying to seal the deal they went from swaggering Casanovas to awkward, pimpled teens.
Luckily for them, the second-half finally bore fruit. After Simon Danielli and Lamont had been thwarted, in the second instance the centre lacking both pace and heart in a chase against Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, two simple moves exposed slipshod Italian defence and the duck was broken. Replacement Nick De Luca profited from another forward surge and offload, this time by Nathan Hines, while Nikki Walker showed pace and power to smash through two tackles off a short ball. It all looked so simple.
Scotland need to use their power runners more regularly, and the more Test rugby Jackson plays the better. The Glasgow youngster is not perfect, but he offers something with ball in hand that his rival, Dan Parks does not: continuity.
The defeat will again be achingly familiar for Italy, who were always likely to slide down the hill after the glory of their victory over France. Again however, they proved their worth as a growing force in attack but shorn of their lineout, where Ghiraldini endured another nightmare showing, they lacked the platform to use their forwards effectively at the maul.
Where they go from here, we can but guess. Nick Mallett believes that this pool of players are his best options this season. They are a tight-knit group, boasting one or two world class players and a handful developing into a helpful supporting cast, and they will need to learn that backing up a victory is as important as the initial breakthrough. The future appears brighter than previous years though, and this one could have been a different affair had it been played under Roman sun.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.