Canavosio sinks Scots as Italy's defence holds firm
The Scottish will say that it was one lapse that cost them this match, singling out the moment in the 68th minute when their midfield split open to allow Pablo Canavosio through for the game's only try. In truth the deciding factor was not that Scotland made one bad mistake, but that Italy made none at all. Limited as they may be, Nick Mallett has still turned his team into one of the better defensive units in rugby. This was a display of catenaccio that would have made Paolo Maldini proud.
It was not that Scotland had trouble crossing the try line. They did that three times. It was grounding the ball that they found impossible. For that, Italy deserve enormous credit. Under pressure, they formed themselves into a chain, seemingly without a weak link. Limited in attack, the team turn into titans when it comes to defending their own try line, and their fans are never happier than when the team are camped in their own 22, repelling the opposition as the masses bellow out the Fratelli d'Italia.
Twice Allan Jacobsen, who justified his promotion from the bench with a barnstorming display, battered his way across Italy's try line. On each occasion the referee, Dave Pearson, felt unable to award the try without referring the decision to video replay. And on each occasion the camera was unable to pick out a clear shot of the ball being touched down among the morass of players. As the Scotland coach, Andy Robinson, put it after the match: "If you can't see it, then you can't award it."
Robinson said that Jacobsen felt the first of the two was a try, but not the second. The Scots had further cause for complaint in the first half, when Sean Lamont took a quick penalty after a cynical piece of ball-killing by Martin Castrogiovanni. Lamont spurted away to score, but his roar of celebration was choked in his throat by the referee's whistle.
The Scottish captain, Chris Cusiter, said that he had assumed Pearson had called play back so that he could show Castrogiovanni a yellow card, but none was forthcoming.
Italy, in stark contrast, threatened the Scottish try line only once and that was the occasion on which they scored. Other than that, and an optimistic chip ahead from the wing Mirco Bergamasco when he found himself in a little space on the left, they offered nothing. Unsurprisingly, they did not create the opportunity but were presented with it.
"We committed too many men to the breakdown," said Robinson. When the ball broke loose, Gonzalo Canale spotted a gap in the centre and cut back infield through the Scottish line, dragging the cover with him. Jim Hamilton hauled him down inside the 22, but Canale off-loaded in the tackle.
Canavosio was close on his teammate's heels, and he stretched out an arm to pluck the ball from the air without breaking stride. He sliced in towards the posts and dived over, leaving the wrong-footed Dan Parks in his wake.
There were 12 minutes to play at the time, and Parks, embarrassingly, had just been awarded the man-of-the match. That decision had presumably been made on the basis of the three penalties and a drop goal that he had kicked to give his team a 12-9 lead.
As that scoreline suggests, the match was a dour affair until Italy scored their try. Scotland conceded two simple penalties in the first 10 minutes as they spilled the ball in contact time and again.
It was a messy business all round. At one point Parks attempted a chip over the oncoming defence, but succeeded only in landing the ball neatly in the hands of Tito Tebaldi.
Just as bad was Tebaldi's own attempt at a grubber, which fed the ball straight to Simon Danielli. His run led to the move that ended with Lamont being denied what he felt was a clear try. At half time it was 6-6.
That duly became 9-6 just after the restart, as Alasdair Kellock gave away another cheap penalty. Scotland rallied well, but a sustained spell of possession in Italy's 22 returned a drop goal from Parks.
The Scots just could not pull away on the scoreboard. This defeat, in its way, will be far harder to swallow than the one that came before it. Scotland took a step forward last autumn, but have taken three back in the winter.
Scorers -- Italy: Canavosio try; Mirco Bergamasco 2 pens, con. Scotland: Parks 3 pens, 1dg.
Italy: McLean; A Masi, G Canale, G Garcia (Roberston 68), Mirco Bergamasco; C Gower, T Tebaldi (P Canavosio 51); S Perugini (M Aguero 61), L Ghiraldini (capt, F Ongaro 72), M Castrogiovanni; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (C del Fava 61); J Sole, Mauro Bergamasco, A Zanni.
Scotland: H Southwell; S Danielli (N de Luca 63), M Evans, G Morrison, S Lamont; D Parks, C Cusiter (capt, M Blair 54); A Jacobsen (E Murray 72), R Ford, E Murray (A Dickinson 69); J Hamilton (N Hines 68), A Kellock; K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie (A Strokosch 54).
Referee: D Pearson (England).