With a new found confidence under recently appointed head coach Vern Cotter, many a Scotland supporter would have been forgiven for thinking Saturday’s encounter with Italy would be more than the annual wooden spoon decider of tournaments past. But, after 2 losses each, it appeared history was repeating itself.
Notable changes included Scotland bringing in Peter Horne at standoff for the suspended Finn Russell and Tim Swinson at lock for the injured Richie Gray. Euan Murray and Tommy Seymour also came in.
The Italians were forced into one of the stranger replacements of the tournament, replacing Martin Castrogiovanni after he was bitten on the nose by a dog. Jacques Brunel made five other changes including in-form second row Joshua Furno, for the injured Marco Bortolami.
Scotland started brightly, gaining a penalty straight away that Greig Laidlaw slotted. Looking to expose any Italian weakness Scotland attacked the line but a promising break came to nothing. Italy then attacked but a stray pass ended up in the hands of Mark Bennett who ran in uncontested for Scotland’s first try, under the posts. Italy struck back straight from the restart, kicking an offside penalty straight to the corner and using their devastating maul to push Furno over for a very easy try; Kelly Hiamona’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful. Two Laidlaw penalties followed.
From there on the focal point was undoubtedly the referee. George Clancy proceeded to spend the rest of the match with his whistle surgically attached to his lips; penalising both teams and resetting as many scrums as he could. Scotland looked the more promising through the majority of the first half, working overlaps and mismatches through the likes of Horne, Bennett and Stuart Hogg.
Italy though finished the half with their tails up, a Haimona penalty bounced off the post only for a fiendish bounce to end up in the hands of Giovambattista Venditti, who crashed over for Italy’s second try. Giving a half time score of 16-15.
The second half largely followed the same pattern as the first. Both teams trying to find space and build momentum only for Clancy to give a toot of his whistle and bring the game to a stop. With both sets of supporters showing their frustration. The highlight of the half was a sweeping Scottish move that saw Hogg crossing the whitewash, but Clancy had seen a forward pass.
With ten minutes to go Italy kicked a penalty to the corner, looking to utilise their all-powerful maul. However, Scotland gained a penalty after a succession of reset scrums and the game looked over, only for Horne, who had had a tough game to miss touch. Italy pushed on, using their maul to gain a penalty and a Scottish yellow card. Using the man advantage, Italy set up another maul. Scotland could only bring it down and Clancy awarded Italy a penalty try and with that a rare 22-19 away victory.