We hear all about that fateful day in 2015 from those who were there
Italy’s last Six Nations win – An oral history
It was 28 February 2015, the last time Italy won a match in the Six Nations.
Their 22-19 triumph in Edinburgh seven years ago was a gritty display, based on belief, hard chasing and a hell of a maul. It was their first win in the competition since toppling Ireland in 2013 and only their second ever Six Nations win away from home (both coming against the Scots).
There has been nothing to celebrate in this tournament since. But there’s plenty to look back on from that game.
So we spoke to several of those who were involved that day – particularly from the Italian side – to get their memories of a fateful afternoon.
Pre-game for Italy’s last Six Nations win
Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini: “It was a crazy week to be honest. I remember we had a tough start to the Six Nations. We lost in Rome against Ireland, we lost in England, and we had a few issues with injuries. And especially given the day before the game, we have some problems with the flu and some guys with injuries.
“So when you are in a tough situation, you have to get back to the (basics).”
Italy full-back Luke McLean: “We were coming off a long period of not winning and Scotland had started playing well. They were definitely favourites going to that game. We’d also made a few changes and had two debutantes that started in the backs, in Enrico Bacchin and Michele Visentin.
“But I remember we’d sat down and definitely said that up front was important. We felt like we could get ascendancy in the maul and anything within the 22 we were just going to drive and drive, and try to score from the 22 out pretty much. That was kind of the chat during the week…”
Italy lock George Biagi: “I’m surprised Luke remembers what happened in the forward meeting for that week!
“But I remember that the game before, in England, it was crazy. Lots of tries had been scored and us getting ahead at the beginning of the match. But (head coach at the time) Jacques Brunel always had surprises, every time he announced a team. He made quite a lot of changes the week before and I wouldn’t say it was strange to see Jacques throwing out two debutants at Murrayfield. I suppose he made the right choices.”
LG: “When you struggle, when there are a lot of problems, you have to take the good from your team and that stuff from the basis – driving and scrums, that’s a part of the game that we were really proud of.”
Italy wing Giovanbattista Venditti: “I remember something we talked about before the game. We said we had to be ready for physical battle, so it was, ‘Let’s go there with a couple of carries and carry hard.’
“Because Greig Laidlaw was the brain of everything for Scotland, but he was not a physical player. So we said let’s try to target him, let him know, and try to run over him with myself and our inside-centre (Bacchin). Not kick too much, but try to keep our hands on the ball, because we needed to move them around.”
Scotland replacement prop Ryan Grant: “In the Six Nations I played, quite often Italy-Scotland was a battle. The general feeling is that we were always a better rugby team, but if they were still in it with ten or 15 minutes to go, you know trouble is afoot, type of thing.”
Scotland No 8 Johnnie Beattie: “I remember it started off really well like a cheap penalty and an easy way into the game. But it was almost like a damp squib at the start. Like, neither team really had taken the game by the scruff of the neck.”
The big talking point at the start was an intercept try from Scotland centre Mark Bennett, who bolted up, waited for a floated Kelly Haimona pass, and then took it all the way to the house for a try.
GB: “After the first ten minutes, I was like ‘F***!’ They got the intercept try after three points, all in like seven minutes. So I thought it was going to be another very long day at the office.
“I remember I was punched in the nose after about ten minutes too, in a maul, and it was bleeding. It was then about a battle up front and Scotland knew it.”
JB: “When Bennett popped up with that interception, that sort of gave us an easy lead that we probably didn’t deserve at the time. It was against the run of play and Italy were actually really comfortable in possession.”
GB: “Actually, after that try, Scotland became a bit more indisciplined and we managed to get back in the game.”
Italy would strike back through – you guessed it – their forwards. A maul formed just inside the Scottish 22 and Azzurri players piled in on the way to a Josh Furno try.
LM: “I remember all week, we ‘d sat there and been told that if we can get a maul within 30 metres, we can probably maul them over. I remember thinking, ‘This is optimistic!’ But then with one of our first mauls within the 22, Furno goes over in the corner. So I think the work the coaches have done in that regard prepared us well.”
GB: “Getting back into the game, it felt like, ‘Yeah, we dodged the bullet here, we are back into this and we might actually get something out of this game.’ The boys were just playing without any regrets, without really thinking what was going on and, you know, just being free. And things worked out.”
RG: “They were just always in it, which meant that we were the ones under pressure. Because it’s almost like, you don’t want to be the team that loses to Italy, if that makes sense?”
JB: “They scored a decent maul try and we went down and scored a penalty and then straight from kick-off receive, somebody knocks on the ball and Blair Cowan catches the ball in front of them. Another mistake. We kept compounding errors or just giving points away and there was no real rhythm to the game. It was tit for tat and broken down.”
Kelly Haimona scored a penalty, then Laidlaw went and got another, making it 16-8 to the hosts. But then, with another three-pointer attempt for Italy created some glorious chaos as Venditti chased the ball, caught a bouncer off the missed kick and squeezed in for a converted try. It was 16-15 at the half.
LM: “Obviously you get the try off the posts just before half-time, to completely get you back in the game and I think then you do really start believing.
“But on hitting the post, I’ve always said it: you make your own luck. Giovanbattista Venditti, he ran that same line every time someone kicked for poles. He was always present there…”
GV: “I can confirm that’s something I did for my entire career!
“But I had two wonderful moments with it – one at Twickenham, one at Murrayfield – so I think that makes up for every run that I wasted!”
JB: “That frickin try is a shocker!”
RG: “That try off the post, they should never have gotten that – I suppose the boys under the posts should have been more switched on.”
JB: “If Greig Laidlaw, bless him, was four centimetres taller, there wouldn’t have even been an issue. The ball hits the crossbar, ricochets off the deck and bounces over Greig’s head. You can’t write that kind of stuff! So unfortunate.
“Then again, there’s the kick-chase from Italy and not giving up – it is absolutely fantastic. And quite rightly, they go over and score. But it’s one of those unfortunate moments where, if the ball had come off the crossbar any other way it would have been dealt with.
“The fact that it came off the face of the bar and goes straight into the deck, like 90 degrees, and bounces up over Greig’s head, it’s incredibly unpredictable and there’s a low percentage chance of that occurring, but unfortunately, it happened to us at Murrayfield in front of 65,000 people!”
GV: “I always tried to position myself (chasing a kick for goal) where I could be like a surprise element. Depending on where the kick was from, I try to put myself in a position to do something. It wasn’t a run just to put pressure, but if everything aligned you could do something special.
“I was running and thought to myself, if the ball hits the first post it means nothing, because it will bounce into the try-zone and it’s too far (to get to). But if it hits the second post, it will fall in the middle – so that’s where I need to be, right in the corridor where I would be in the best position.
“I saw the bounce was good so I just jumped. With the ball in my right hand I tried to make it, but I couldn’t because there were three or four Scottish players holding me back. So I had the possibility to switch the ball from my right to my left hand, and in less than a second I was able to put the ball down.”
With a melee on the deck in the aftermath, Scottish bodies swamp the ball on the try-line. Immediately Venditti heads for captain Sergio Parisse to implore him to fight for the TMO to review it – the decision goes their way anyway and everyone goes in at the half, with a single point in it.
GV: “At half-time we said we had 40 more minutes and they were done, because we could feel their physicality was coming down a little, so we said we had to try harder. Focus on what we could control. Try to play in their 22, because our forwards were doing good. We were in a good position. We just had to play on the right side of the pitch.
“Something could happen, but we needed to stay disciplined because Laidlaw was a great kicker.”
LM: “We tried to control the tempo, control where we played so that was a factor. It was a game where it really came down to field position and territory and that was something that we had looked at all week – playing in the right areas of the field, not getting impatient. Obviously Stuart Hogg has got a massive boot as well so we just wanted to stay in there and just keep pinging them back.”
The second half is tighter than a cellophane corset, and just as sloppy looking. Past the hour mark, if an offload from Sean Lamont to Hogg doesn’t drift forward the full-back may well have scored the decisive try and we wouldn’t be talking of this as Italy’s last Six Nations win. But with Scotland 19-15 ahead and only four minutes left to play, it comes down to a vital scrum.
RG: “I remember that best because that was my first scrum. I came off the bench. In the Italian scrum then was (Lorenzo) Cittadini, and I always had really good battles with him. It was hit or miss because you’d either go well against him or he had this bear strength. And I thought, ‘F***, he’s on one today.’
“We had a few resets, and I was blowing out my arse, trying my best to hold the scrum and I don’t know if he slipped or what, but he ended up flat and we got the penalty. I remember looking at the ref, seeing the arm come our way, and thinking, ‘Thank f*** we haven’t lost to Italy’.”
From the penalty though, Peter Horne, playing at fly-half, injures his leg in the act of kicking for touch and the ball doesn’t make it off the park. Italy are on the attack again.
JB: “That one’s really unfortunate for Peter Horne, who was really just starting his Scotland career (it was his seventh cap, his fourth start and his first wearing ten). We actually did really well to win a scrum penalty on our try-line through Ryan Grant on the loosehead but it’s unfortunate for young Peter, who hurt himself, but would go on to be a great player and a fantastic servant for Glasgow and Scotland.
“And yeah, that allowed Italy three minutes to get back up there and try to generate something again. I’m watching through my fingers on the touchline as I’d been subbed off and I think the game is over.”
RG: “My overwhelming memory of that weekend was the level of unfair abuse that Pete got after that game on social media, from shouting by the fans. We obviously lost but the response he got, even in-house, within our own shed, how he was treated for that is one of my biggest memories.”
Thankfully Horne is afforded the opportunity to lay ghosts to rest, and in 2017 says: “That night I just wanted to dig a hole, dive in it and never come out ever again but the sun came up the next day and you have to face up and get on with it.”
But with a few minutes left at Murrayfield in 2015, the pressure builds and builds and builds as Italy knock at the door. Two of Scotland’s own debutants enter the fray only to be given their marching orders, as Ben Toolis and Hamish Watson come in late for cap one and see yellow. Italy keep working their way up field. A penalty try is on its way…
GB: “The most vivid memory I have was of Andrea Manici coming on instead of Ghiraldini, and there was a lineout. Everyone was like, ‘Please, just throw it straight, throw it straight, throw it straight’. And it was a terrible lineout we would call a ‘pizza’ – you would call it a ‘pie’. It was going everywhere and we just about managed to win the ball. But then, from there, we would go on and we scored that try.”
LG: “We won the game because – especially at the end when we had a penalty try – we had a driving maul. But even before we were pushing harder at the scrum, so we were putting a lot of pressure in the scrum as well.”
JB: “Ben Toolis was already in the sin-bin. They’ve gone to the corner and of course they’d already scored a maul try earlier in the game. They go again and have some pressure and it’s a young man by the name of Hamish Watson, making his debut and just cutting his teeth in pro rugby, who has no option but to drop a maul that was moving forward at a rate of knots.”
LM: “I somehow ended up in the maul at the end, when we were going for the penalty try. I don’t know how I ended up in a maul but there were a lot of boys all pushing the thing over so I just jumped on the back.
“I remember the ref blowing the whistle and everyone looking up to see what happened, whether we’re going to get pinged or they’re going to get pinged. He went under the sticks and we were realising we’ve finally got there. Obviously, it was sheer joy from us and disappointment from Scotland.”
Post-match of Italy’s last Six Nations win
The penalty try was converted and Italy had their monumental win – what would turn out to be Italy’s last Six Nations win. Captain Parisse is beside himself. McLean is named Man of the Match, which he laughs about today as being his only one ever at Test level. It is also the only Test match wing Visentin ever plays for the Azzurri – meaning he has a 100% win record! Scotland will also finish rock-bottom of the Six Nations, scoring only six tries throughout the whole competition.
However, for the Italians, it is a moment to savour. Little do they know seven years later it will stand as Italy’s last Six Nations win.
LM: “We’d won a few Six Nations games over the years, France a couple of times, Scotland at home a couple of times, Ireland, but the vast majority of us (in that team) never ever experienced an away victory.
“After the game Tommy Allan absolutely legged it under the sticks and was fist pumping, going nuts. Then obviously afterwards, was a fairly decent celebration out in Edinburgh…”
LG: “After the game we walked around the stadium to say thanks, as you usually do, and I still remember the faces of the supporters who had travelled to Edinburgh. They were so happy and so glad. This was an emotional part of the day.
“After the game we obviously made a walk into the town and when we saw supporters we were happy to stop and chat, because support has always been great for Italy, even if we don’t have a successful history. We have the best support in the world, I always say that.”
GB: “I remember very, very well what we did after the game because it was a freezing night in Edinburgh. Simone Favaro had just signed for Glasgow (for the next season) so we both went and met some friends of mine from school and we went to some pubs along Frederick Street… And the rest is probably not to be put on paper!”
GV: “The final result for us was huge. As a group, it was our first away win, so it felt really good. Not only for the score, but because the performance was great, because it wasn’t easy. Like, that famous win against Scotland in 2007 where Italy were 21-nil after seven minutes, that kind of game will never happen again. This one was different.
“Then, of course, the night out was legendary!”
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