Sunday 18 March 2018

Seymour's late finish marks end of Scotland's disappointing run

Italy 20 Scotland 36

Scotland's Tommy Seymour runs in to score a try towards the end of the match. Photo: PA
Scotland's Tommy Seymour runs in to score a try towards the end of the match. Photo: PA
Edoardo Gori of Italy is tackled by Tommy Seymor. Photo: Getty
Italy's Sergio Parisse is tackled by Duncan Taylor of Scotland. Photo: Getty
Italy and Scotland players in action. Photo: Getty

Will MacPherson

It says plenty about the caginess of the battles between the Championship's perennial cellar dwellers that this was only the second time in seven Six Nations meetings that the margin has topped two converted scores. This felt no different; a scrap and skirmish between two teams forever playing off at the table's foot, fearing the indignity of another wooden spoon.

That taste is familiar and it was little surprise to see handbags flap and terse words exchanged as the clock wound down. Thanks to Tommy Seymour's late try, the result looks more comfortable than it was; indeed Scotland have never scored more points in the Six Nations.

If Scotland's opening was characterised by an ugly rust - Mark Bennett's careless fumble and Finn Russell's missed touch from a penalty - they brought the silk as soon as the Italians were on the scoreboard. Kelly Haimona punished John Barclay from 40 metres for being off his feet, but from the resultant restart, Haimona gathered and kicked long and the Scots simply refused to give the ball back. Stuart Hogg charged with purpose from deep and, after some lumbering thrust from Jonny Gray, Hogg jinked outside then in with recycled ball before having the wherewithal to offload from the tackle to Barclay, who crossed at pace in the left corner. Greig Laidlaw converted.

Barclay is one of Scotland's two opensides and six minutes later John Hardie joined Barclay on the scoresheet. This time it was Russell who brought the craft, breaking into the Italian 22, and offloading to Alastair Dickinson. Quick ball found Ryan Wilson, whose flat pass sent Hardie over in the same corner. Again, Laidlaw converted, this time from a tighter angle. When Edoardo Gori failed to roll away in the 26th minutes, Laidlaw knocked over a penalty, again from the left-hand side, to nudge Scotland 14 points ahead.

Wilson, the third member of the back-row, proved a marauding presence in defence and attack, having been called into the XV at the 11th hour in place of David Denton. A hit on Haimona tested Wilson's strapped ankle, but on he soldiered, tackling hard, peeling off mauls and generally providing a more purposeful presence than Denton had in Scotland's opening two matches. Were it not for Blair Cowan's concussion - which peculiarly saw him ruled out of this match, but picked to play for London Irish today - Wilson would not have been on the bench. It was no surprise, after such a shift, to see Wilson limp off in the second half.

The Italians hit back, three minutes after Laidlaw's penalty, through Leonardo Ghiraldini's delightful try. Sergio Parisse drew men in midfield before Gonzalo Garcia surged towards the left-hand corner, taking defenders with him. His offload found the more artful Odiete, who after some subtle footwork, flicked to Ghiraldini, who fooled Hogg with a dummy and bundled over. The hands were supple, the thinking was quick, and Haimona added the extras.

After Laidlaw missed from the right with the last touch of the half, the second period began with the trading of straightforward penalties between the Scotland captain and Haimona. Italy should have come away with more, through a long advantage - that led to Laidlaw being warned that his team's next failure to roll away would prompt a card. And indeed it did, twice. First Russell dived over the top in his own 22, then, when he had returned, Nel was adjudged to have intentionally knocked on. Almost immediately after Russell was sent to the bin and, after Martin Castrogiovanni rumbled forward, Marco Fuser crossed under a bundle of bodies. The three points Laidlaw clawed back when Alessandro Zanni failed to roll away, coupled with some heroic defence, meant Russell's absence was not too costly.

Upon his return, Scotland had a put-in on their own five-metre line, and when Castrogiovanni buckled, Hogg launched a huge kick to halfway; another penalty enabled Russell to move Scotland into the Italian 22 and the pressure was relieved. Even after Nel was dispatched to the bin with five minutes to go, the Scots never returned to their own half, and it was left to Seymour to finish a fine move. The ball went wide off the back of a maul, a sumptuous Barclay offload saw the ball find its way to Hogg, who again drew two men and slipped it out sideways for Seymour to finish.

For Scotland, the rot has been stopped, and it matters little how. They had not won in the Championship since Duncan Weir's last-gasp drop-goal here two years ago. Each of these sides' last win against anybody else came in 2013; Scotland look best placed to end that sorry run, too. Their chance against the French at Murrayfield in a fortnight looks as good as any.

Scorers - Italy: Ghiraldini, Fuser tries; Haimona 2 cons, 2 pens. Scotland: Barclay, Hardie, Seymour tries; Laidlaw 3 cons, 5 pens.

Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, M Bellini; K Haimona, E Gori; A Lovotti (D Giazzon 58), L Ghiraldini (M Zanusso 58), L Citttadini (M Castrogiovanni 58), M Fuser, J Furno (V Bernabo 37), F Minto (A Van Schalkwyk 68), A Zanni, S Parisse.

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett (P Horne 64), D Taylor, T Visser (S Lamont 73); F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford (S McInally 64), W Nel, R Gray (T Swinson), J Gray; J Barclay, J Hardie, R Wilson (J Strauss 68).

Referee: G Hughes (England)

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