Where do we go from here?
February 27, 2010
No room: Graeme Morrison is caught by the Italian defence © Getty Images
It's difficult to think of back-to-back defeats that have hurt more. Scotland's heartbreak in Cardiff came accompanied with a deserved sense of indignation following an excellent all-round display, but Andy Robinson will find no such solace in reviewing their latest loss in Rome.
Scottish players and fans alike bristled at the suggestion the game was little more than a Wooden Spoon decider, with their eyes more loftily set on securing the win that their performance in Cardiff deserved before settling in for an always hard-fought Murrayfield meeting with England.
In past seasons critics have been quick to point out that Scotland were only on their game when fired by the parochial rivalry of old, but Robinson will now need every ounce of vitriol available in two weeks' time.
Italy's effort was a lung-bursting combination of aggressive, organised defence and mastery of the breakdown. Mauro Bergamasco attacked the tackle area with a righteous fury and ensured that Dan Parks, peculiarly awarded a second successive Man of the Match award, had no time to settle and dictate the rhythm of the game with his kicking arsenal.
As against England they were also brimming with endeavour and while much of their play was rough around the edges their boundless enthusiasm led to several close calls. Both sides have struggled to score tries in recent seasons and again the sole five-pointer proved pivotal. Many would be forgiven for expecting a series of short forward bursts followed by a final heave from the home pack to have swayed the game, but it was a try born of genuine quality in the backs. Gonazalo Canale's midfield break shattered the Scottish defence and his offload off the floor to Pablo Canavosio was unplayable.
The inside of Robinson's head will be a mishmash of missed opportunities and a furious list of motivational techniques. Their back-row went into the game behind only France in terms of effectiveness so far this season but found no answer to the brazen physicality of Bergamasco, Quintin Geldenhuys and tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni.
When Scotland were able to get in behind the Italian line they were undone by a combination of poor refereeing and resolute last-ditch defence. Either side of half-time, the visitors could have forged a winning advantage. How Josh Sole remained on the pitch following his blatant killing of a Scottish attack only referee Dave Pearson knows, and Scotland will have been further aggrieved that they were prevented from taking a quick tap.
Prop Allan Jacobsen had a positive impact on Scotland's scrummaging and also went close to barrelling over for a try shortly after the break. Along with Ross Ford and Euan Murray, Jacobsen helped dominate the Italian scrum and it was here that Scotland built their most effective spells of pressure. Their decision making in front of the Italian defence was muddled, though, and Parks found little of the control that he exerted in Cardiff two weeks ago.
Italy must take a great deal of heart from this performance but also should be aware of the challenges ahead. France lie in wait at the Stade de France and will have little time for plucky underdogs as they search for a Grand Slam, but they need to continue to grow and not retreat from the expansive game that they clearly hope to develop.
Scotland's plight is one that makes you glad that you're not a coach. Robinson has brought organisation and grit to their play and for a time he seemed sure to banish their try-scoring woes. After a result in Rome that dredges up all the wrong kinds of memories he needs to earn his stripes ahead of their meeting with England.
Scotland's Six Nations record against Italy now reads won six, lost five. There's a big year ahead for both sides before they meet at Murrayfield in 2011, don't take your eyes off it for a second.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.