Late collapse hands Italy win

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Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Scotland are staring at their fourth Wooden Spoon in 11 years after their late collapse handed Italy a 22-19 win at Murrayfield.

Mark Bennett’s intercept try and 11 points from skipper Greig Laidlaw’s boot looked to have put the hosts in command early on.

But scores from Joshua Furno and Giovanbattista Venditti, plus five points from kicker Kelly Haimona, allowed the Italians back into it just before the break.

Laidlaw added another penalty after half-time but his side could not hold off a late surge from the Azzurri and left referee George Clancy – who had proved hard to please all afternoon – no option but to hand the visitors a last-gasp penalty try, converted by Tommy Allan.

It was sweet revenge for the Italians after Scotland snatched victory in Rome last year with Duncan Weir’s stoppage-time drop-goal.

But it leaves a Dark Blues side who marched into the championships with so much confidence facing another season of failure following defeats to France and Wales.

Head coach Vern Cotter could have done without the loss of playmaker Finn Russell to suspension after he left Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar in a heap while they challenged for a high ball two weeks earlier.

Russell’s enforced absence left Cotter with a dilemma over who he should pick at stand-off but opted for Glasgow’s Peter Horne with Edinburgh rival Greig Tonks named on the bench.

But the change did not look like it had slowed the Scots down in the opening moments as Laidlaw nailed his first penalty within the opening 60 seconds.

The noise around the ground only grew louder seven minutes later as Italian fly-half Haimona gifted the ball straight to Bennett and the Glasgow centre galloped home from 70 out to score under the posts.

But no sooner had Laidlaw put over the conversion, than the Italians had struck back. After forcing a line-out inside the Scots’ 22, the visitors got a heave on and drove the home side backwards before Furno dived over for the try. Haimona missed the conversion.

He did add a penalty soon after, but only once Laidlaw had done the same at the other end for the Scots.

That early flurry of points was halted briefly though as Irish official Clancy was forced to stop the action three times to lecture both sides on the proper method for setting the scrum.

The home fans were not amused by his pedantic intervention but they were smiling when Laidlaw added another penalty just before the half hour mark.

But Clancy was running out of patience with Scotland’s front-row as the Italians were handed another penalty when the scrum collapsed again.

Haimona rattled the post with his kick but the rebound dropped into Venditti’s hands just two yards out and the Azzurri wing burrowed low to ground the ball despite a raft of Scots desperately trying to keep him out. The conversion was added by Haimona as he cut Scotland’s lead to a single point.

It was now becoming a battle of the packs. The next scrum battle went Scotland’s way as the Italian forwards buckled. The wind was back in Scotland’s sails now but they were denied a second score when Sean Lamont’s pass inside to the on-rushing Stuart Hogg went forward.

The Italians were tiring but fought bravely to hold off wave after wave of Scottish attack. But Laidlaw made sure to extend his side’s lead to four points when he knocked over a penalty from close range with quarter of an hour left.

The visitors dug deep and pushed their way back into opposition territory. It was back to the scrum duel and the Italians were heaping on the pressure as another set-piece went down.

Clancy warned the Scots they were running out of chances to get it right but when the Italians collapsed the next scrum, the home side celebrated it as if it was a match-winning try.

However, the Scots had not finished the job yet and had to play out the last two minutes without debutant lock Ben Toolis after he was sin-binned for dragging down a maul.

The Azzurri sensed their chance and from the next drive got their reward as Clancy handed them a penalty try. Substitute Tommy Allan – a former Scotland Under-20 cap – rubbed salt into the wounds of his former countrymen as he booted over the conversion.

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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