Realistically, this was likely to be the “Wooden Spoon” match, with both sides sitting in the last two places in the table going into this weekend’s round of fixtures. For that reason, both sides would have wanted to win this match, and that made for an interesting match up.
Scotland were rushing decisions in the early parts of the game, and this cost them points in this important match. Some notable examples included fly-half Adam Hastings’ poor miss when taking a penalty in front of the posts, and a grubber kick which was charged down by Italy with barely any effort required at all. However, to their credit, Scotland did get going eventually.
Their first try was a brilliant individual effort from captain Stuart Hogg, with the full-back making a run similar to what he did for Exeter Chiefs against Gloucester last weekend in the Premiership. The move also included a good dummy, which completely caught out Italy in the middle of the pitch, and a splash of trademark Stuart Hogg pace, as well as his eye for the try line. I mentioned in a previous article for The Runner Sports how he really acts as another winger most of the time, and is constantly the player on the outside ready to take the pass and score the try, and this is exactly what happened in this try.
When Scotland are attacking, they played really quickly, and moved the ball from wing to wing in an instant. This caught Italy out quite a few times when they were defending, and this was actually Scotland’s biggest weapon in this match. It also meant that Italy kept leaving gaps for Scotland to exploit, and but for a forward pass, the Scots would have had two tries at half-time.
In the second half, Scotland managed to get their second try because they changed their attack ever so slightly. During the phases, they were passing and then engaging the defensive line, and that wore Italy out. Eventually, the Scots switched it up and played two passes before engaging, and that was all they needed to create the extra fraction of a second that enabled them to get over the line. It was good that it was Chris Harris that scored, because he has been one of their best players in the tournament so far.
They made two substitutions of note in the second half, which were George Horne and Rory Hutchinson. Horne came on at scrum-half for Ali Price, and Rory Hutchinson, who plays his club rugby for high-flying Northampton Saints in the Premiership, replaced Gloucester’s Chris Harris at centre. Both added more creativity into the Scottish game, and at one point, Horne actually ducked a tackle. Both helped to see the game out for Scotland, but both actually made a difference in the closing stages.
Their third try came from Italy conceding another turnover, and that really summed up Italy, but for Scotland, they will be happy to just get their first win, but will be disappointed to have not sealed the bonus point, which would have been very beneficial to them going forward.
As for Italy, they seemed to have a simple tactic that they had worked on for this one; get the ball quickly and use their brute strength. When they really get going, their biggest weapon is to push against their opponents, and this meant turnovers were fairly regular in their favour in the first half. That’s not to say they were better at this than Scotland, as the away side had a lot of turnovers in their favour, but this was one good point about Italy’s play in the first 40 minutes.
This natural force also influenced their lineout strategy. Whilst they did mix it up, what they did is to throw to the first or second man in the lineout, rather than doing the slightly more conventional method of throwing towards the back of the lineout. This meant that they could get the ball down quickly, and get going.
After half-time, they were throwing everything at Scotland in terms of defending, but it proved to be fruitless as Scotland got the try, but this showed that actually, Italy can defend when they work together and are disciplined. There were still plenty of gaps being created, and that let Scotland have an easy way through. Hastings in particular made a run through, before the ball was dislodged in a tackle, so it wasn’t perfect, but there were good signs. That is key, because in attack, there were issues that need mentioning, and need working on for them.
It took until around 53 minutes gone for them to get their attack going properly, but the thing about their attack was that they kept giving the ball away, and they were never able to register any points to show for their advances forward. They were the makers of their own misfortune, and the errors kept coming. Sadly, that wasn’t just a one-off, because it is something we have seen from Italy too often in recent matches.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
There were several excellent performances in the Scottish ranks, but there was one player who contributed a lot, and that was Hamish Watson. He was constantly making runs forward and trying to find the gaps, and he played really well throughout.
After another weekend off, Scotland are back at home, when France visit Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon. Italy, meanwhile, are on the road again, when they go to the Aviva Stadium to face Ireland, what is looking an increasingly impossible ask for them to get anything there. That is the Saturday lunchtime game.