Italy 20 Scotland 21
Flower of Scotland rang out in the Olympic Stadium in Rome today – as a song of celebration.
Duncan Weir’s 80th minute drop-goal summed up the reserves of character in this Scotland squad as they put behind them their opening two defeats in the RBS 6 Nations Championship to achieve success through a stunning second-half fight-back
If it was crowned by Weir’s strike – a new portrait of calmness under pressure – it was constructed around an improving setpiece, both lineout and scrum, and the strike running of Alex Dunbar.
The 23-year-old Glasgow Warriors centre – on only his sixth cap for Scotland – weighed in with a brace of tries that highlighted his virtues.
It was the first time that a Scot had claimed a try double in the Six Nations since . . . France at Murrayfield in 2006, and, by a happy co-incidence it is our Gallic counterparts who are next up at Murrayfield in a fortnight.
Sean Lamont was the man with a brace on that occasion and Dunbar’s tour de force today was a worthy follow-on.
What was especially pleasing about this performance was the immediate reaction of Weir, which was echoed by his team-mates and coaches.
“Of course we’re pleased to win today but as Johnno has said we’ve got to look to be more consistent.
“We’ve got France up next at Murrayfield and we really need to build on today with a performance to be proud of for our home crowd,” he noted.
Having trailed 3-13 at half-time – and, just like in Dublin, conceded a try at the worst possible time in the shadow of the interval – Scotland dominated territory and possession in the second-half and played at a tempo that certainly troubled the hosts.
The first-half penalty count – 10-2 against Scotland – was over-turned in the second period where Mr Walsh ruled a 4-1 penalty count in Scotland’s favour, though quite how the game’s final two scrums ended without a penalty for the visitors was something of a mystery to this observer.
Penalties that rained at scrum-time like confetti in that first period – the referee seemed fixated by Moray Low at the setpiece - resulted in Scotland conceding four scrum penalties in the first 25 minutes.
While it was a tactical substitution that saw Low replaced by Geoff Cross on 38 minutes, the Scotland management were at pains to point out that Low was not the sacrificial lamb that some envisaged.
So, to the scores; Tommy Allan had goaled a 13th minute penalty for Italy, which Greig Laidlaw cancelled out on 22 minutes.
On the half hour Allan, after an earlier mis-cue, sloted his second penalty but better was to follow from the nephew of the former Scotland hooker John Allan.
Scotland were looking to clear from a lineout about 20 metres out and had opted for the long throw over the tail to Johnnie Beattie. In attempting to clear from the breakdown, the referee ruled a turnover to the Italians and from the subsequent scrum, Sergio Parisse made the first surge which Allan soon embellished with a try near the posts. His conversion gave the Azzurri the interval lead at 13-3.
Chris Fusaro’s strength at breakdown won Scotland a penalty early in the second-half and Laidlaw popped over the goal.
It had been some 374 minutes since Scotland’s last international try but the score that came in the 54th minute was a gem.
Weir won the turnover with a tackle on Edoardo Gori and ball was spirited right with Scott Lawson and Matt Scott linking for Stuart Hogg to send in Dunbar from a good 30 metres, Dunbar having the pace to round Tommy Allan in the process. Laidlaw missed the conversion.
Try number two was well-crafted off scrum ball with Chris Cusiter – on as a 63rd minute substitute for Laidlaw – in quick-witted unison with Lamont before Dunbar rounded it off with a flourish at the posts. The try was confirmed by TMO Geoff Warren and Weir converted for Scotland to lead for the first time at 18-13.
Back stormed Italy and Josh Furno crashed over in the right corner for Luciano Orquera to convert and restore a two point advantage to the home team.
Just as in Pretoria last summer – when it required a last minute Laidlaw conversion of an Alasdair Strokosch try for Scotland to triumph 30-29 – Scotland played to the last grain of sands in the timer.
Cusiter’s sweetly-timed pass and Weir’s execution – bisecting the uprights, high and handsome with his first drop-goal for Scotland – cued celebration among the tartan clad hordes and reignited Scotland’s Six Nations campaign.
Italy: Luke McLean; Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto; Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Alberto De Marchi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Quintin Geldenhuys, Josh Furno, Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri, Sergio Parisse captain.
Subs: Davide Giazzon for De Marchi, Matias Aguero for Ghiraldini and Lorenzo Cittadini for Castrogiovanni all 57 mins, Paul Derbyshire for Barbieri and Tobias Botes for Gori both 63 mins, Luciano Orquera for Allan, 68 mins, Marco Bortolami for Zanni 73 minutes
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar (all Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Sean Lamont; Duncan Weir (both Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby) captain; Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro (both Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier).
Subs: Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) for Low, 38 mins, David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) for Fusaro (52 mins), Max Evans (Castres) for Seymour (55 mins), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby) for Grant (58 mins), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors) for Laidlaw (63 mins), Duncan Taylor (Saracens) for Dunbar (72 mins).
RBS Man of the Match: Josh Furno (Italy)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Alasdair Dickinson, the Edinburgh Rugby prop, is the most significant casualty following Scotland's 21-20 win against Italy in the RBS 6 Nations Championship in Rome yesterday.
Dickinson won his 33rd cap when he was introduced as a second-half substitute for Ryan Grant.
Scotland team doctor James Robson said: "Alasdair has a calf injury which will require further assessment in the care of his club medical team.
"Otherwise we have the habitual soft-tissue injuries you would expect from a hard-fought Test match but, at this early juncture, there does not appeare to be any other injuries of concern."