Saturday, September 29, 2007

Scots Chip Away At Italy

The rain lashed down in St Etienne, so it was never going to be a wide, expansive game. Kicking and a forward grunt were on the cards - not pretty, but effective in those conditions.

The Scots got the early advantage when Italy gave away two penalties - Chris Patterson's metronomic boot punishing the Italians all evening. The Azzurri didn't do themselves any favours when Mauro Bergamasco, Italy's Openside, was sent to the bin for preventing a try. Scotland went for the lineout, but Sergio Parisse bundled them into touch.

A few minutes later, the Italians made up for their man disadvantage from a scrum; the ball worked upfield via a huge kick from Ramiro Pez, a ruck formed on the line and Captain Alessandro Troncon [right] snuck over the line for a converted try. The points fired up the Azzurri, who forced a long range penalty which was wonderfully struck by David Bortolussi to take them 6-10 up.

Rory Lamont [left] had a nasty clash with Andrea Masi, but they both recovered after some medical attention. However, Lamont was substituted by Hugo Southwell a few minutes later. The next two chances for points fell to the Italians, but they were unable to make them count. First, Ramiro Pez missed a drop goal, which went wide. A few minutes later, Bortolussi missed a penalty from just inside the halfway line.

Scotland's control of the game was not going to plan, although Dan Parks [right] had put in some immense kicks for territory. At 31minutes, he was felled by a high tackle from Troncon, and Paterson slotted the penaltyy from 40m out. So Scotland were only trailing by one point. Three minutes later, Paterson did it again, to take a 12-10 lead. The Scots in the crowd went wild. Just before the break, Parks missed a long range drop goal, but Scotland were still able to go into the dressing room with the psychological advantage.

Italy came out in the second half looking the more determined. Bortolussi had a chance at a penalty from out wide in the 43rd minute - it was good for accuracy but just fell short. The Scottish lineout was functioning well, with Jim Hamilton taking securely and disrupting the Azzurri from time to time. The Scots won another penalty in the Italian half, which Chris Paterson could have kicked in his sleep, to take them 15-10 up. The Italians indiscipline continued to trouble them, and Paterson added yet another penalty in the 53rd minute to keep his kicking record at 100% - not just for this game, but for the whole tournament.

Then Nathan Hines was binned for taking out an Italian with a high tackle. David Bortolussi clawed back another three point from the deficit to take the score to 18-13. Saracens' Fabio Ongaro [right] came on for the Azzurri at 54, in place of Carlo Festuccia. He made an immediate impact at the set piece and in the loose. Pez's kicking was also improving, and Italy began to dominate. At 61 minutes, the Scots collapsed a maul, and Bortolussi took the points from out wide.

The last twenty-odd minutes saw plenty of endeavour from both sides, but no more points. The scoreboard stuck at 18-16 to Scotland. Italy had an opportunity at goal in the 77th minute, after the Scots came in from the side of a ruck. Crucially, Bortolussi was unable to take the points - something that coach Pierre Berbizier will no doubt rue for a long time.

So the Scots make it through to the quarterfinals, to face either Ireland or Argentina, neither of whom will be a pushover.

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