Italy off to a winning start in Six Nations
February 5, 2000
Alessandro Troncon celebrates after Italy's historic first win in the Six Nations
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The "Eternal City" has waited an awful long tome to host a Six Nations match but Italian Rugby's lifelong hopes were realised with the staging of today's game in Rome. However they had clearly not read the script which had them as "no-hopers".
Diminutive flyhalf Diego Dominguez kicked them to a famous win against the reigning European Champions which will silence the doubters for good. Scotland were left down and out in Rome and looked a pale imitation of the last season's upstarts.
Dominguez was as magnificent as Kenny Logan was dreadful. The Argentinian-born maestro missed with just one attempt while scoring 29 of Italy's points with six penalties and three drop goals and a conversion; he even had the gall to attempt a left-footed drop-goal! When he wasn't kicking the ball through the posts he teased the Scots by rolling the ball into the corners and asked the visitors to run it out again.
The flyhalf also tackled like a flanker and threw himself into the rough stuff as though he was born to it. He even wriggled his way over the Scottish line in the dying moments but failed to ground the ball. In contrast Logan had a day he will want to forget kicking just one of his five pots at goal.
The setting was perfect with the Flaminio Stadium near enough to full to its 25,000 capacity as to make no odds and a pitch that would elicit a murmur of approval from the Lords' groundsman, all bathed in February sunlight. Thanks to the Italian announcer we had "Flowers of Scotland" beforehand and the match was witnessed by "Princess Anna". The Stadium itself was like a miniature Parc des Princes, all noise and colour.
Scotland kicked off and enjoyed the lion's share of possession and territory in the opening quarter. Kenny Logan squandered two excellent opportunities to open the scoring in the opening minutes from two penalties that an international marksman should have kicked with his eyes closed. Perhaps that was Logan's problem as his first attempt worried the corner flag more than the posts.
Much worse for Scotland was the loss after just twelve minutes of their Kiwi captain John Leslie and the injury to such an influential player must question the wisdom of rushing him back into action without so much as a club game under his belt.
At least Dominguez had the decency to drop short his own long distance effort. His counterpart Gregor Townsend finally dropped a goal on the 17 minute mark after his forwards had worked their way deep into enemy territory. The Scots forwards were dominating proceedings and both Glen Metcalfe and Kenny Logan enjoyed their moments in the wide open spaces when counter-attacking from some wasteful Italian clearances.
Still Dominguez was able to pull the home side level with a 24th minute penalty and just moments Logan somehow conspired to fluff another opportunity, hitting both upright and crossbar, from directly in front of the posts.
With all their domination the Scots should have been over the hill and out of sight but somehow they remained stuck on the blocks. Their game lacked shape without the master sculptor John Leslie and they tried to play too much rugby early on which meant a fruitful day at the office for Italian scavengers Massimo Giovanelli and Mauro Bergamasco.
Italy slowly worked their way back into the match and Dominguez kicked them into a 6-3 lead after 33 minutes when a Scottish hand was employed in a ruck. Scots hooker Gordon Bulloch then scored in extraordinary circumstances. Metcalfe had sliced open the midfield but when felled by the covering Troncon the ball went flying forward, off the fullback's boot, but while Italian players downed tools expecting the whistle referee Kaplan waved play on. The ball was duly hacked ahead and Bulloch showed good pace to win the race for the touchdown under the posts. Logan then surprised everyone by kicking the conversion without mishap.
Stung by the score the Italian forwards went to work. They drove straight into the heart of the Scottish forwards and won two penalty opportunities with which Dominguez gave them a half time 12-10 lead which they just about deserved.
Italy were enjoying their Six Nations debut and savoured the moment by staying on the pitch at half-time while the Scots skulked back to the dressing room. They enjoyed their debut even more after Dominguez opened the second half with a two drop goals and a penalty in the second, ninth and fourteenth minutes to give the home side a useful eleven point lead. Meanwhile Logan, and there are no prizes for guessing this, missed his forth penalty attempt. Townsend, belatedly replacing Logan on kicking duty, eventually grabbed back three points with a simple penalty as the game moved into the final quarter but Dominguez swiftly grabbed them back with an audacious forty yard drop goal.
In the final quarter it was Scotland who were unable to make any headway into the opposition despite the introduction of Doddie Weir and David Hilton. Twice substitute Marco Rivaro foiled Scottish attacks and Metcalfe will have the bruisies come Monday. Long before the end of the match Scotland were a shambles as Italy's confidence and belief flooded back.
The injury time try to Giampiero de Carli was just reward for their efforts. Dominguez, and there are no prizes for guessing this either, kicked the tricky conversion. Martin Leslie scored a consolation try for the visitors but it will give them scant relief. They are in danger of becoming a one-man side and that man left proceedings after 12 minutes. Without John Leslie they appeared bereft of ideas although had Logan made good his early kicks that might have changed the face of the entire game.
Italy will take great heart from this victory and whatever they are paying Brad Johnstone it isn't enough. Perhaps Scotland might like to double his wages and move him to Murrayfield? The match was no classic but the Italian victory, all heart and passion, was the very reason we watch sport.
Scorers: Townsend DG, Pen, Conv, Logan conv. Dominguez DG 3, Pen 6, conv .
ITALY: 15 Matt Pini, 14 Denis Dallan, 13 Manuel Dallan, 12 Luca Martin, 11 Cristian Stoica, 10 Diego Dominguez, 9 Alessandro Troncon, 8 Wilhelmus Visser, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Massimo Giovanelli, 5 Andrea Gritti, 4 Carlo Checcinato, 3 Tino Paoletti, 2 Alessandro Moscardi, Massimo Cuttita.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Orlandi, 17 Giampiero de Carli, 18 FGiuseppe Lanzi, 19 Aaron Persico, 20 Matteo Mazzantini, 21 Marco Rivaro, 22 Andrea Scanavacca.
SCOTLAND: 15 Glenn Metcalfe, 14 Shaun Longstaff, 13 Jamie Mayer, 12 John Leslie, 11 Kenny Logan, 10 Gregor Townsend, 9 Bryan Redpath, 8 Gordon Simpson, 7 Budge Pounteney, 6 Martin Leslie, 5 Stuart Grimes, 4 Scott Murray, 3 Mattie Stewart, 2 Gordon Bulloch, 1 Tom Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rob Russell, 17 David Hilton, 18 Doddie Weir, 19 Stuart Reid, 20 Andy Nichol, 21 Duncan Hodge, 22 James McLaren.
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