11 June, 2017

Rugby: Scotland win over Italy 34-13 in Singapore

Head coach Gregor Townsend, was happy with a lot of what he had seen in a match played in humid conditions, but acknowledged that with a new-look side and with so many players not having seen any action for so long, there was still plenty to work on.
The first 38 minutes showed the Scots’ threat but also the absence of the sort of cohesion they will need to challenge the best.

Then came a 10-minute purple patch in which they scored two tries either side of half-time to put the game to bed, with two moments of magic from fly-half Finn Russell in setting up two of the scores the highlight of the night. “I always thought it would be difficult to play the rugby we had been training to produce because of the conditions and the fact that we had not played together before,” Townsend said.
“The opening five minutes were excellent. If we had come away with tries then, it would have been better but the players kept believing in what they were doing, got back in the game, and worked hard to get those two tries just before half-time.
“We talked during the week about how Italy were tough opponents and how the type of rugby they play will take a lot out of the forwards.
“You have to keep working at it. There will be times in the game when it may open up, though, because they are not used to playing with that speed of ball.”
All that was achieved despite a late reshuffle after John Hardie hurt his back in the warm-up, forcing Ryan Wilson off the bench into the starting XV, with John Barclay, the flanker and captain, switching sides in the scrum.
As Townsend suggested, Scotland started at 100mph, but the frustration was that all they had to show for it was a single penalty from Russell cancelled out by one for his opposite number, Tomasso Allan.
The game turned on a productive 10 minutes either side of half-time when Scotland ran in four tries and settled the result. The first came from an Ali Price tap penalty, which ended with the same player rounding the defence to score.
Then came Russell’s first piece of magic, a perfect little chip kick taking Scotland into the Italy 22 before a repeat chip was taken by wing Tim Visser leading to the second try.
The opening period of the second half belonged to hooker Ross Ford, who was at the back of a maul as it rumbled over the line and then in the perfect place to take an inside flip from Russell for his second.
In 107 caps, he had only scored two tries so no wonder he was happy.
“It was good to get the win and keep the momentum going from the Six Nations. We played with a bit of ambition, a bit of tempo. It was a good first hit-out,” Ford said. “There were a lot of positives, round the maul, defensively in the line-out, and a lot of our phase play was good.
“It was good to score. I managed to pop up in the right places, at the back of a maul for the first and on Finn [Russell’s] shoulder for the second where thankfully I did not have too much to do. It was good fun, good to be out there playing an enjoyable game.
“I was expecting Finn to give the ball to Tim but instead he popped it out the back door to me – happy days. Those are the things you have to watch out for; he is able to do those things that not many people think about. That is how you score tries.”
The personal glory, however, was outdone by the overall team satisfaction at having got Townsend off on a winning note.
“It was really good to get that momentum. We talked about it back in Scotland, that we had built some momentum in the Six Nations and, with Gregor coming in, wanted to keep it going. It was good to show that we can play the way he wants us to play – fast and at tempo – and still be accurate,” Ford said.
The final period was more nip and tuck with Italy claiming two tries back, one from an interception finished by centre Michele Campagnaro, the other in the final seconds when wing Angelo Esposito found space on the touchline to go over.
In between, there was another moment to mark when Damien Hoyland, the Scotland wing, was put over for his debut Test try – thanks to quick hands from Duncan Taylor.
Captain Barclay said: “The pressure told. We kept saying, ‘keep hold of the ball, keep hold of the ball and we will score’.
“It was a bit greasy in the humidity but we knew that if we kept hold of the ball we would come good and get some points. We had proved that in the Six Nations – eventually you are going to open them up and score.”
It was altogether a satisfying night but everyone in the Scotland camp knows things are going to be a lot tougher next week in Australia.