Scotland power past lifeless Italy
February 28, 2009
Scotland wing Simon Danielli is congratulated after scoring their first try
© Getty Images
Scotland got off the mark in this year's Six Nations with a morale-boosting 26-6 victory over Italy at Murrayfield.
Under increasing pressure after a disappointing start to the Championship, the hosts opened their account thanks to tries from winger Simon Danielli and Scott Gray to heap woe on an increasingly listless Italy and grant coach Frank Hadden a temporary reprieve.
The Scots' convincing return to winning ways also allowed them to erase the memory of their painful loss to Azzurri here two years ago and the dramatic defeat in Rome last year but they still struggled for long periods against their worryingly limited opponents.
Following defeats to Wales and France, Scotland were boosted by the return of prop star Euan Murray from injury while lock Alastair Kellock was handed his first Test start for two years. Meanwhile, Italy made four changes to the side beaten by Ireland including the welcome return of back Andrea Marcato and lock Marco Bortolami.
Scotland took control of the contest with the best of an uninspiring first 40 minutes. They suffered an early blow with fly-half Phil Godman forced off in the opening minutes with a blood injury that saw Chris Paterson enter the fray. And the metronomic kicker opened the scoring with his first touch.
Scotland continued to show adventure but Italy arguably had the better of the early exchanges with Gonazalo Canale, often looking dangerous, forcing an opening before being hauled down. Paterson doubled the Scots' lead when Bortolami was penalised for coming in from the side before his profitable cameo was ended with the return of Godman.
A terrible lineout throw from hooker Ross Ford handed Italy an attacking scrum inside the Scotland 22 midway through the half, but the visitors failed to capitalise and were penalised themselves at the resulting scrum.
Scotland's interception-laden nightmare of two years ago looks like it might have returned to haunt them when Hugo Southwell gifted the ball to Alessandro Zanni but he did not have the pace to get home with Danielli producing the try-saving tackle. But they did come away with some reward with No.8 Sergio Parisse underlining his exceptional all-round talent with a drop goal.
Italy immediately offered the Scots a chance to cancel out that score when Luke McLean dallied in possession before failing to release but Godman pushed the penalty wide.
After beginning the half strongly the Scots lost their way a little with their backline mis-firing on numerous occasions to offer Italy hope. But a harsh deliberate knock-on call against Mauro Bergamasco allowed Godman to slot and easy three and double his side's advantage.
Scotland cemented their lead soon after with try straight from the training field. Godman and centre Graeme Morrison combined well to create the opening for Danielli who cut through the defensive line. The winger's pace carried him past the weak covering tackle of Matteo Pratichetti for his first international try in 5 years. Godman slotted the conversion to put the Scots firmly in control with half-time looming.
Italy had one last chance to close the deficit before the break but Andrea Marcato's long range effort drifted wide to leave his side 13 points in arrears.
Paterson returned to the game soon after the break for Southwell but it was Italy who conjured the first score of the half with McLean slotting a penalty.
To their credit they continued to take a positive approach but errors blighted their progress more often than not. They rarely looked like scoring with their backline struggling to make an impression.
In contrast, Scotland produced some of the best rugby we've seen from them in recent months. Some slick handling fed the lively Thom Evans who cut straight through the Italy defence but he was thwarted by a great tackle from Parisse. However, he was still able to offer a neat off-load to Gray who accepted the easy score.
The conversion from Paterson all but ended the game at a contest with barely and hour on the clock.
From the re-start they almost had another with man of the match Danielli pouncing on the ball before galloping up the touchline. A great cover tackle from McLean saved the day for the visitors, forcing the Scot's foot into touch with the winger just inches short of the line.
Italy continued to rack up errors, far too many to be competitive, and another allowed Paterson to kick his third penalty although the negative option was greeted with boos by the home crowd.
Italy found some continuity at least as the game entered the last ten minutes but did not deserve a try.
Instead it was Scotland who looked most likely when replacement prop Alasdair Dickinson produced a superb injection of pace before showing great awareness to feed replacement scrum-half Chris Cusiter who was denied by a great tackle from Mirco Bergamasco.
Italy's two most impressive performers conjured their most notable effort in the game with just two minutes left on the clock. A great pass from Parisse fed Mauro Bergamasco who chipped ahead only to be beaten by the bounce of the ball.
The Scots ended the game on the front foot with Thom Evans and Godman threatening but in the end they had to settle for the 20-point winning margin.
The victory will be a welcome boost for the Scots ahead of testing clashes with Ireland and England while it is back to the drawing board once again for Italy with the Wooden Spoon set to remain in their possession.
Scotland: Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh); Simon Danielli (Ulster), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors); Phil Godman (Edinburgh), Mike Blair (Edinburgh, capt); Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), Jason White (Sale Sharks), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors)
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester), Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh)
Italy: Andrea Marcato (Benetton Treviso); Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Gonzalo Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), Gonzalo Garcia (Calvisano), Matteo Pratichetti (Calvisano); Luke McLean (Calvisano) Paul Griffen (Calvisano); Salvatore Perugini (Stade Toulousain), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Calvisano), Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), Santiago Dellape (Toulon), Marco Bortolami (Gloucester), Alessandro Zanni (Calvisano), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais)
Replacements: Fabio Ongaro (Saracens), Carlos Nieto (Gloucester), Carlo Antonio Del Fava (Ulster), Pablo Canavosio (Viadana), Josh Sole (Viadana), Andrea Bacchetti (Rovigo), Giulio Rubini (Cariparma)
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures
"Our scrums and lineouts are sometimes not that good but our men are very brave." Ken Borland finds that rugby is on the rise in Senegal
Laurie Fisher talks about the Brumbies and Gloucester, and provides revealing thoughts on the player involvement during the glory days in Canberra