17 Mar MATCH REPORT | Scotland 29-0 Italy
Job done. A thoroughly professional performance from Scotland saw them finish the RBS 6 Nations Championship with three home wins for the first time.
A capacity BT Murrayfield crowd saluted their troops as a try bonus point victory enabled head coach Vern Cotter to bow out on a high with a winning percentage of 53% during his three years in charge of a young team, from which the best could yet be to come.
Now the Scotland team must await the outcome of the later games on Super Saturday in Paris and Dublin to see whether they have achieved a best-ever Championship finish.
But the gloss on a season, which saw Scotland reach a historic high in the world rankings and post convincing victories over their Celtic counterparts, Ireland and Wales, gives good reason to look ahead with confidence to the new era when Gregor Townsend takes over as head coach for the three-match summer tour against Italy, Australia and Fiji.
The weather forecasters had erred in the forenoon but by the time Finn Russell kicked-off to the north end of the ground the skies had cleared (marginally) but it was only a temporary respite.
At the first scrum, Scotland’s pack got the shunt on their opposite numbers and referee Pascal Gauzerre awarded the game’s first penalty. Up stepped Stuart Hogg and he celebrated the arrival of his young daughter Olivia May with a quality strike (3-0, 4 mins).
Tim Visser won an aerial contest against Sergio Parisse and then Ali Price had to look lively in marking a speculative kick ahead from Edoardo Gori as Italy got their rolling maul cranked up.
It had been a cagey opening and a penalty to the visitors at a scrum just outside their 22, denied Scotland the opportunity for any continuity.
Zander Fagerson won a breakdown penalty for the hosts but with Gori responding for Italy with a quick tap penalty, Carlo Canna had the chance to level but he fluffed the relatively straight-forward penalty chance.
At last the game got the spark it needed when first Alex Dunbar then Huw Jones made breaks in a multi-phase, patient home attack which ended with Visser getting above Edoardo Padovani in attempting to catch Russell’s cross-kick but then spilling the ball. A penalty advantage was being played as Scotland lost Jones, who had slipped in the act of his break, with Matt Scott taking to the field for his 37th cap.
From the penalty to touch, Grant Gilchrist caught at the lineout and there was a succession of pulverising forward drives before Russell wriggled his way over in the left corner. He converted his own try, his third for Scotland. (10-0, 28 mins).
An obstruction against Jonny Gray saw Italy have another shot at goal, but Canna’s radar blipped once more.
Just before the break, from a glorious spiralling touch-finder from Hogg, Jonny Gray won ball against the throw at the lineout, Hamish Watson and Fagerson surged, Russell probed and teased and from Ali Price’s kick, Hogg got airborne and Matt Scott dotted down his pat-back for Scotland’s second try and the centre’s fifth for his country. Russell’s conversion just failed (15-0, 37 mins).
In first-half stoppage time, Canna endured a hat-trick of penalty misses.
HALF-TIME | Scotland 15 – 0 Italy
The second-half opened to a watery sun and a series of Italy driving mauls from close-range lineouts as Scotland were penalised three times in quick succession by referee Gauzerre. Hogg and Scott did well to hold up Angelo Esposito on the right in goal but three became four penalties and Gauzerre yellow-carded the Scotland captain.
Gilchrist was then pinged at the next lineout for a challenge in the air but as Italy moved the ball right, Scotland’s defence was stoic and resolute and forced an Italian knock-on, which was greeted by huge acclaim from the BT Murrayfield crowd.
Another trademark Dunbar turnover, a flurry of subs then an offside penalty against the Italian outside backs enabled Russell to fire Scotland to a five-metre lineout but Dell could not take a pass and Italy scrambled clear.
Barclay returned from the sin-bin without any dent on the scoreboard and a big final quarter was now required from the home troops.
From Du Preez at the lineout and the combative Dunbar and Tommy Seymour in midfield harmony ball spun left, Hogg kicked ahead and Visser won the race for the try, a lucky 13th for his country, duly confirmed after TMO dissection. Russell converted (22-0, 61 mins).
BT Murrayfield had to wait another 11 minutes for a piece of history, Scotland’s first try bonus point as once again after a sustained team build-up, Russell and Hogg combined to send Tommy Seymour in for the score. Russell converted (29-0, 73 mins).
Seymour’s try was his 16th for Scotland and the crowd were in buoyant mood, even managing a huge cheer as the spectating and rehabilitating Scotland captain gave a cheeky wee wave on the big screen. The smile is back on the face of Scottish rugby.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour (both Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Stormers), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Harlequins); Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid (all Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), John Barclay (Scarlets) CAPTAIN, Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).
Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for Ford (65 mins), Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby) for Reid (55 mins), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) for Fagerson (65 mins), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors) for Gilchrist (56 mins), Cornell du Preez (Edinburgh Rugby) for Wilson (47 mins), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) for Price (54 mins), Duncan Weir (Edinburgh Rugby) for Scott (73 mins), Matt Scott (Gloucester) for Jones (25 mins).
Italy: Edoardo Padovani; Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti; Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Ornel Gega, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Fuser, George Biagi, Abraham Steyn, Maxime Mata Mbanda, Sergio Parisse CAPTAIN.
Subs: Leonardo Ghiraldini for Gega (40), Sami Panico for Lovotti (62 mins), Dario Chistolini for Cittadini (40 mins), Dries van Schalkwyk for Fuser (53 mins), Federico Ruzza for Biagi (73 mins), Francesco Minto for Mbanda (53 mins), Marcello Violi for Gori (53 mins), Luca Sperandio for Canna (62 mins).
Referee: Pascal Gauzerre (France)
RBS Man of the Match: Finn Russell (Scotland)