Scotland ended their 2017 Six Nations with three wins after defeating Italy 29-0 at Murrayfield. It was a victory built on momentum and muscle and one that ends Vern Cotter’s reign as Scotland head coach on a fine note.
Banished were the memories of Scotland’s hammering at the hands of England a week previous, with hard carrying in the rain and a sense of adventure when things brightened up. They deserved their bonus point for the manner in which they exploited quick ball and slammed into the gainline, but this was also a weak showing from Italy. The second try they gave up came as the ball was batted towards Matt Scott in a panicky flap, the first, third and fourth the products of riding attackers backwards towards their own line.
The visitors were hard done by in not getting a penalty try after 50 minutes, with the Scots persistently giving away penalties in front of their own line, but that was their only real opportunity – with a penalty advantage and John Barclay in the bin they had two great chances to make their numbers count and butchered them both. For too long in this one they were passive, almost content to come off second best in many collisions and it must have been frustrating to the extent of infuriating for Conor O’Shea to see his attack flounder.
As for Scotland‘s coaches, there was a hint of tears in Cotter’s post-match interview but there will be no grandstanding from him, no lengthy soliloquys. He came to do a job and after this one, it looks pretty clear he has achieved a great many of his goals….
Scotland’s Six Nations – Three wins out of five is a great return for the hosts who have – Twickenham horror show aside – played throughout this championship with a swagger and brio that has been missing for some time. With Cotter departing, can they continue this? In truth it doesn’t really matter – the fans have had plenty to cheer over the last few months and they will enjoy revealing in this.
Playing in the rain – Yes greasy conditions made for a lot of kicking and one-out runners, but actually in this weather, if a catch was made cleanly or you had quick ball with a runner around the corner, there were yards to be made. So while Italy focussed on exits and a driving maul, Scotland played with tempo. It bore fruit often.
Young men growing up – Zander Fagerson had his best game of the tournament here, looking like an old veteran. We know how good Hamish Watson can be and his performance was as action-packed as we’ve come to expect. But Scotland will take great pleasure in knowing how far their young tighthead and even scrum-half Ali Price have come in the space of this year’s Six Nations.
Italian penalty kicking – Carlo Canna had a day to lament from the tee, missing three kicks in the first half that would have kept Italy in touch with their hosts. For all the skilful young fly-half has the potential to offer when he has the ball in space, at the moment he cannot give Italy what they really need in games like these: points.
Schizophrenic set-piece – If either side got a straight throw in at the lineout it made for a more fluid game – indeed when Italy got their maul rumbling it looked dangerous. But Ornel Gega’s throwing was as predictable as a toddler during a BBC News interview and Scotland’s second try stemmed from a stolen lineout. It was no surprise when he was hooked at half time.
Over-lenient officiating – Scotland got a team yellow after repeated infringements in the third quarter, constantly chucking a spanner into the Italian lineout. Fair enough, but how in the name of the game did the referee not award a penalty try? It felt for all the world like a bottled call.
53% – Vern Cotter’s final win percentage as Scotland head coach, making him the most successfulScottish boss in the professional era.
24 – The number of years since Scotland have nilled an opponent in the championship.
5 – The number of lineouts lost by Italy.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones (M Scott, 26, D Weir 74), A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell, A Price (H Pyrgos 54); G Reid (A Dell, 52), R Ford (F Brown 65), Z Fagerson (S Berghan, 65), G Gilchrist (T Swinson, 57), J Gray, J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson (C du Preez, 48).
Tries: Russell, Scott, Visser, Seymour. Con: Russell 3. Pen: Hogg.
Yellow card: Barclay.
Italy: E Padovani; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, L McLean, G Venditti; C Canna (L Sperandio, 62), E Gori (M Violi, 52); A Lovotti (S Panico, 62), O Gega (L Ghialdini 40), L Cittadini (D Chistolini, 40), M Fuser, G Biagi (F Ruzza, 74), A Steyn, M Mbnda (F Minto, 52), S PArisse (capt).