A last minute drop goal from Duncan Weir gave Scotland a vital and season changing victory against Italy in Rome on Saturday. A match that ebbed and flowed provided a fitting climax as Scott Johnson’s men avoided the Wooden Spoon by the skin of their teeth.
Both sides came into the match on the back of two defeats, albeit the Italians showing infinitely more promise than their Scottish counterparts. A narrow loss to Wales on the opening weekend followed by a strong first half showing in Paris meant the hosts arrived home the deserved favourites. Scotland, going down with a whimper in Dublin before a dismal nil defeat at home to England drew fierce – and deserved – criticism in the home press.
A tight first half saw both teams trading a penalty each in the form of Tomasso Allan and Greig Laidlaw. Allan put Italy a further three ahead before breaking a deadlock on the stroke of half-time; the fly-half powering over for a try resulting from impressive sustained Azzurri pressure. Italy led 13-3 at the break while Scotland looked underwhelming.
The second half showed more promise and action, and Scotland finally entered the match proper. After securing a vital turnover in Italian territory, the Scots through Laidlaw and Weir spread the ball out wide and a sumptuous line break from centre Alex Dunbar and impressive pace gave Scotland their first try in five matches. Laidlaw failed to convert from the touchline however; the score remaining 13-11.
Scotland’s line-out and set piece play was vastly improved from the opening two weekends as well. Richie Gray, recalled to the side after missing the Calcutta Cup match was in impeccable form, twice stealing Italian possession while his second row partner Jim Hamilton was also impressive.
Italy, looking a much more settled team of late, constructed their play superbly and on several occasions broke the Scottish defence. The most dangerous runners, Luke McLean and Leonardo Sarto proved more than a handful for the Scots in attack.
With the game poised at 13-11 heading into the last twenty minutes, it was Scotland who turned pressure into points. A fantastic set piece move was started by a powerful run from Sean Lamont, who pushed through two Italian defenders before giving a dainty offload to Chris Cussiter who, in turn set off Alex Dunbar. Dunbar glided through attempted tackle after attempted tackle to score his second try to put the visitors in front for the first time. Laidlaw converted and suddenly weeks of frustration began to disappear.
Now trailing 18-13, Italy hit back immediately, and through McLean were on the front foot once more. A sparkling run from winger Sarto gained the hosts fifteen metres and quick hands through the backs forced Scotland into desperate scrambling defence. Italy went through the phases twice more, before sublime passing put second row Joshua Furno in at the corner to equalise at 18-18. Luciano Orquera – on for Allan – converted brilliantly from the touchline to send the home crowd potty with ten minutes remaining.
Scotland, now were looking desperate and increasingly short of answers as Italy looked to close things out. The minutes quickly ticked down and before we knew it, there was merely a handful to go. The visitors were then given a glimmer of hope with a scrum thirty metres from the Italian try-line. Looking for a penalty, the ball jetted out of the side of the scrum, David Denton just managing to scrape the ball back on the Scottish side. Through the phases they went and with only fifteen seconds left on the clock, fly-half Duncan Weir put himself in the pocket before sweetly striking the winning drop goal. Scotland were now miraculously 21-20 in front.
Italy, needing to re-gather the restart immediately to stand any chance of victory went quickly, but Scotland managed to get their hands on it. With time up on the clock, Cussiter fired the pass to Stuart Hogg who couldn’t get the ball off the field quick enough; Scotland the victors of a 6 Nations classic.