Johnson coaching magic working a treat on revitalised Scots
Did you hear the one about the Dutchman, the New Zealander and the Scotsman? Everyone walked into the bars of Edinburgh on Saturday night toasting them – everyone except the Italian visitors, that is.
In Tim Vissser (Netherlands), Sean Maitland (New Zealand) and Stuart Hogg (from the Borders region), Scotland have discovered as potent a back three combination as they have ever enjoyed.
They scored two tries between them and set up another as Scotland clicked into dynamic attacking form with a four-try demolition of Italy, conquerors of France the previous weekend.
That makes six tries in all for Scotland after two games – two more than they managed in the whole of their whitewashed, wooden spoon campaign of 2012, as many as they bagged in the entire 2011 Six Nations and twice as many as they plundered in 2010. All of a sudden, the hitherto dour, blunted Scots have found the kind of attacking verve and precision that hallmarked the revival of the Welsh in the mid-Noughties.
Scott Johnson was the attacking coach who breathed new fire into those Dragons. The Aussie is now the interim head coach of a Scotland team who proved on Saturday that, far from being cut adrift from the rest of Europe's elite, they now possess a cutting edge which could threaten the continent's best.
Visser needed no second invitation to step inside from the left touchline and take a beautifully delayed pass from stand-off Ruaridh Jackson to score on the half-hour – a fifth try in seven Tests for the former England schools flanker.
Then there was the vital incision that Maitland made into the attacking line to set up the second try for Matt Scott, whose centre combination with Sean Lamont is also starting to flourish.
The piece de la resistance, though, was Hogg's perceptive interception of a Luciano Orquera pass 10 metres from the Scotland line and his jink, swerve and sprint upfield to score.
The 20-year-old, who has 12 caps, already looks like a Scottish rugby all-time great in the making – a combination of Andy Irvine and Jim Renwick. Lamont scored the other try with a wily hack out of a ruck and chase from halfway.
Rob Harley, making his first start at blindside flanker, beavering skipper Kelly Brown and the assured John Beattie got the better of the Italians at the crucial contact area – and in defence. Indeed, only when Beattie slipped on the turf six minutes from time did the off-colour Azzurri look like scoring, which Alessandro Zanni duly did. (© Independent News Service)
Scotland –S Hogg (M Evans 73); S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser; R Jackson, G Laidlaw (H Pyrgos 76) R Grant (M Low 60), R Ford, E Murray (G Cross 70); R Gray, J Hamilton (A Kellock 67); R Harley, K Brown (capt, D Denton 70), J Beattie.
Italy – A Masi; G Vednditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale, L McLean; L Orquera (K Burton, 48), T Botes (E Gori 48); A Lo Cicero (A De Marchi, 60), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon 60), M Catsrogiovanni (L Cittadini 64); Q Geldenhuys (A Pavanello 60), F Minto; A Zanni, S Favaro (P Derbyshire 68), S Parisse (capt).
Ref – J Peyper (South Africa)