Italy announce their arrival in the Six Nations
February 5, 2000
Alessandro Troncon revels in the Azzurri's win
© Getty Images
Italy joined the Five Nations in 2000, to make six, after a generation of struggle to do so. Held back by bureaucracy and a certain reluctance to expand the championship, Italian rugby had peaked in the 1990s with respectable World Cup performances and wins over France, Ireland and Scotland.
Their eventual admission to European rugby's top table coincided with the retirement of several leading players, so an emphatic victory over 1999 champions Scotland provided a welcome, if surprising, baptism.
Scotland arrived in the Eternal City with five New Zealand-born players and a further three born in England, and a detectable degree of complacency as they were expected to brush the freshmen aside. Kenny Logan, first choice kicker for the day, had a shocking afternoon while Diego Dominguez worked wonders with his boot and in every aspect of the game. Dominguez finished with 29 points, still the Italian individual match record, including three drop-goals.
Spring sunshine, a pristine Stadio Flaminio pitch and noise and colour in abundance provided the perfect environment for Italy's team to show their mettle.
Scotland lost captain John Leslie to injury after 12 minutes, and with him went their structure. The Scottish forwards dominated proceedings but nothing was done with so much possession and territory. Logan missed two penalties in the opening minutes, Gregor Townsend finally opening the scoring with a drop-goal on 17 minutes.
Dominguez soon levelled with a penalty, before Logan's humiliation reached a nadir when a penalty from in front of the posts hit both an upright and the crossbar in refusing to go over. If Scotland were guilty of too much ambition early on, and being turned over as a result, Italy's pack showed patience and stuck to their script; keep possession, get field position, let Dominguez kick the goals.
Scotland hooker Gordon Bulloch chased loose ball and scored under the posts after Glenn Metcalfe had spilled the ball in the tackle. It shot forward off Metcalfe's boot, the Italians stopped in their tracks expecting a whistle for a knock-on, but referee Kaplan waved play on. Logan converted. Two more Dominguez penalties gave Italy a 12-10 lead at the break. They remained on the field for coach Brad Johnstone's oration while Scotland went to lick their wounds in the dressing room.
Matters continued to go Italy's way. Dominguez hit two drop-goals and a penalty while Logan missed one more before Townsend assumed kicking duties and reduced the gap to eight points. The introduction of David Hilton and Doddie Weir from the bench was too little, too late for Scotland. What shape they had was gone.
Italian tails were up, Dominguez' kicking to the corners was as perfect as his place and drop-kicking. Metcalfe's attempts to attack were brutally knocked back by Marco Rivaro and his hard-tackling team-mates. That it wasn't pretty stuff was of no concern to Italy. They were making history.
Italy celebrate their maiden Six Nations triumph © Getty Images
Scotland's day was summed up when they conceded an injury time try to replacement prop Giampiero De Carli, which put the game beyond doubt and raised the metaphorical roof of Stadio Flaminio. Martin Leslie's consolation try at the end made no difference to anybody. Kiwi tones came from both sides afterwards: "I couldn't have written a worse script", said a dejected John Leslie.
Johnstone was more articulate: "I thought of we were going to win a game, it would be this one because everyone expected us to be useless. Opinion in Britain even questioned whether Italy should be in the competition. I feel sorry for the Scots that they had to face us first. We worked on our basics; the scrum, second-phase rucking and mauling and defence. It's like putting down the foundation for a house before you build the walls."
Dominguez was almost sympathetic in his assessment: "Personally, I don't think Kenny Logan is a kicker. If you watch him kick you see he's not a natural. Each time we get a penalty we take the points and they miss."
Italy had announced their arrival in style, poking fingers at those who had resisted their admission. But it would be another three years before they won again in the Six Nations and the next ten years produced only six more victories. Beating France in 2011 and 2013 gave hope that Italy may no longer be the poor relation in European rugby.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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