This game saw the bottom two at the start of the day face off against each other at Murrayfield, with Scotland looking to get back on track after last week’s disappointing result against Ireland, whilst Italy were hoping to finish their 2021 Six Nations with positives to build on going forward. However, whilst everyone was fairly confident Scotland would win, the question of by how much was one that not many would have guessed close to.
Italy began the game with good early pressure, and their first try from captain and hooker Luca Bigi came from this. Starting quickly is something we have come to associate with Italy when they are in form, playing quickly and finding spaces in opposing defences. The end product is what they have missed, though, so this early try definitely set the game up to be an interesting watch.
However, the other thing we know about Italy is that they very quickly begin to make mistakes that give their opponents easy penalties, which is when their heads go down and they lose confidence. That happened in this game too, and their discipline was a big problem for them. A first half yellow card from centre Federico Mori meant that Italy were missing a player in defence for part of the first half, leaving spaces for Scotland to exploit in attack. Winger Darcy Graham scored a try from one gap, with Italy clearly struggling without their full XV on the pitch.
With them tackles being missed and gaps being left open, Italy made a change of tighthead prop after around half an hour, with Giosue Zilocchi replacing Marco Riccioni. This is not uncommon in the Italian team, with head coach Franco Smith tending to bring on his better props for the last three quarters of the game, rather than taking them off at around 60 minutes. However, because he only brought one on, it did seem to be a way of shoring up the Italian defence, giving them more strength in that area.
In the second half, they began with the same errors being made. These started straight from the kick-off, with fly-half Paolo Garbisi kicking into touch on the full, ensuring Scotland had the ball and could get an attack going. Five minutes later, hooker David Cherry had his second try of the game from a driving maul, so it just shows how small mistakes can cost teams, like they did Italy here. Italy didn’t have enough to hold Scotland back when they did come forward, meaning that they were constantly on the back foot and allowing their opponents to pick their spot.
Their discipline also continued to be a problem, with a yellow card for Sebastian Negri again meaning that one of Italy’s key players was off the pitch when they needed him. Ioane also had a yellow card later in the game for a horizontal tackle on Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, and Italy were always going to struggle against a strong Scottish side with these players off the field.
They made changes in the midfield relatively early in the second half, with Garbisi and Mori being replaced by Carlo Canna and Marco Zanon respectively, and it did seem that this was because they wanted more creativity and control in that area, as well as more experience to plug the gaps that had been appearing, and more composure.
Overall, it was a really poor game from Italy, and, whilst we praised them in their first few games for really trying and creating opportunities, these last couple of games have seen them go back to what we have become used to over the last few years. They are still a young side, and will learn, but, with questions constantly being asked about their future in the Six Nations, this performance will have done nothing to silence their critics.
Scotland, meanwhile, made some early mistakes, which most likely came from their nerves after conceding the early try. They didn’t seem to be working together that well, with a lack of communication very noticeable at times. Hooker David Cherry’s try got them back in the game, and appeared to wake them up a bit more; winger Duhan van der Merwe’s second try shortly after further displayed their rejuvenated togetherness. There were a few times that phases of play broke down too easily, though, and they did make some basic errors that gave Italy easy penalties, but they were much better once on the scoresheet.
In attack, they created some really good chances to score, with Huw Jones’ bonus point try coming from a gap in Italy’s defence; we have already mentioned how Scotland were able to take advantage of Italy’s poor defensive discipline to score tries in this way. Overall, it was a good first half for them, but they needed to tidy up their play in parts. The individual errors we have mentioned didn’t help them, and also gave Italy a few opportunities to break through them, so this was something they needed to improve on.
Italy’s poor discipline allowed Scotland to keep pushing and finding gaps in the second half too, and their fifth try, scored by scrum-half Scott Steele, came after centre Sam Johnson had found a way through and been stopped just short of the line, allowing Steele to pick the ball up and get it over. Therefore, this is a clear indicator of how Scotland were able to take advantage of Italy’s poor defending and win points; a key sign that they have turned a corner with their performances and attitude. Their eighth try came when van der Merwe, supported by Hogg, found another gap to run through, again highlighting how much space Scotland were able to find. They did still have discipline issues in the closing stages, but, at this point, it didn’t matter to them, as they were comfortable winners in the end.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
There were several outstanding performances in the Scottish ranks. Replacement hooker George Turner was excellent when he came on, flanker Hamish Watson played brilliantly as usual, and van der Merwe and Johnson always threatened when they got forward. However, Huw Jones was in the middle of everything good for Scotland, supporting runs, finding gaps, and scoring a try as well. It was an all-round exceptional performance from him.
Scotland’s last game sees them travel to Paris on Friday night, where they will play their re-arranged game with France.