Source: INPHO

Tears of Joy

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Round Four, Six Nations – Scotland v Italy
DAM Health Stadium, Edinburgh

Result: Scotland 29 Italy 21
Player of the Match: Jade Konkel-Roberts

It’s so nice to be wrong. Scotland stormed to a first victory of the championship and a first win in a long time. I suspect I wasn’t alone in thinking the Azzurre would walk off with important away points, however hard the Scots might battle.

I’m happy to put this victory down to the presence of the Princess Royal in the stand, a very special kind of good-luck charm.

But Italy were well short of their best form here. The line-out was flimsy and handling let them down far too often. The scrums were very tight till near the end; the Scots holding up well.

I was concerned that placing Jade Konkel-Roberts in the second row might diminish her effectiveness. But no, once more her presence proved decisive. Every time she had ball in hand, the Scots moved forward. Lana Skeldon too had another fine game.

They had a great fillip when Louise MacMillan went over in the 11th minute to give them a rare early lead. She and JK-R completed a neat 1-2-1 in heavy traffic to force the gap. Helen Nelson’s kick pranged back off the post.

Scotland used the breeze to hoist deep kicks. The Italian back-three dealt with most of them efficiently, but Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi, back on duty at 15, did drop more than one offering. The 21-year-old hooker, Vittoria Vecchini, had little more success at the line-out than Neve Jones had earlier in the afternoon. That is such a vital starting-point for attacks these days.

On 26 minutes came a Scottish error that almost cost a try. As they attacked, an optimistic off-load finished on the deck. Alyssa D’Inca, the last person you want to offer an unconsidered trifle to, hacked ahead and chased. She had to stoop low to regather and score; in the process she knocked on. The hosts saved for a while.

But the response came, and from a typical weakness. Scotland didn’t clear their lines at the first opportunity; a penalty was conceded. Instead of the conventional kick Sofia Stefan opted for a scrum. The ploy worked; the Italian pack drove and Giada Franco, operating at 8 in Elisa Giordano’s absence, scored. As usual Michela Sillari had no problems converting from the right edge. (5-7)

This was looking all too like a typical Scottish performance: a fine score, then an immediate reverse. Not this time. A clean line-out take and drive saw Lana Skeldon score yet another try for her country.

Half-time 10-7

Scotland had enjoyed an unwonted 61% possession, and they exploited their advantage after the restart. Leah Bartlett went over after more strong work from the pack.

On 50 minutes Bartlett was over for her second, just like London buses. (24-7). Then came the customary downturn for the hosts; Italy got their game together. First Sara Tounesi, who was a powerful presence throughout (one late tackle almost a disaster for her), drove over. Then a quick tap and go let Isabella Locatelli dodge through to 8 metres out. Chloe Rollie brought her down, but Vecchini made up for earlier shortcomings with a second try inside three minutes. She was fed by Ostuni Minuzzi, who collected a deep kick to counter with a threatening run. A 17-point lead reduced to 3!

The game shifted decisively when the TMO spotted a dangerously high tackle by Sara Seye who was shown red (64 minutes). That was just enough advantage for the Scottish pack to drive their side home to victory. They won a series of penalties from scrum drives, and Skeldon posted her second try to make the game safe.

Teams:

Scotland:

15 Chloe Rollie, 14 Coreen Grant, 13 Lisa Thomson, 12 Meryl Smith, 11 Francesca McGhie, 10 Helen Nelson, 9 Mairi McDonald, 1 Leah Bartlett, 2 Lana Skeldon, 3 Christine Belisle, 4 Jade Konkel-Roberts, 5 Louise McMillan, 6 Rachel Malcom (C), 7 Rachel McLachlan, 8 Evie Gallagher

Bench:

16 Jodie Rettie, 17 Anne Young, 18 Elliann Clarke, 19 Eva Donaldson, 20 Elidh Sinclair, 21 Caity Mattinson, 22 Beth Blacklock, 23 Liz Musgrove

Italy:

15 Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi, 14 Aura Muzzo, 13 Michela Sillari, 12 Beatrice Rigoni, 11 Alyssa D’Inca, 10 Veronica Madia, 9 Sofia Stefan (captain), 1 Gaia Maris, 2 Vittoria Vecchini, 3 Lucia Gai, 4 Valeria Fedrighi, 5 Giordana Duca, 6 Sara Tounesi, 7 Isabella Locatelli, 8 Giada Franco

Bench:

16 Emanuela Stecca, 17 Alice Cassaghi, 18 Sara Seye, 19 Laura Gurioli, 20 Alissa Ranuccini, 21 Sara Barattin, 22 Emma Stevanin, 23 Francesca Granzotto

Officials:

Referee: Aurélie Groizeleau (FFR)
ARs: Joy Neville (IRFU) and Adele Roberts (BEL)
TMO: Ian Tempest (RFU)

Table to date (France v Wales to come):

able                             W​      L​       Pts

England​​​                        4         0        20
France                          3        ​ 0        15
Wales ​​                           2          1         9
Scotland      ​​                 1         3          5
Italy                               1          3         4
Ireland    ​​                      0          3         0  ​

Afterthoughts

It was vital for Italy to survive a pasting at Northampton and show they could still play good rugby. Their win against Ireland did that, but the performance in Edinburgh marks another backward step for them. They can’t use the absence of Giordano and Francesca Sgorbini as credible excuses.

A special mention for Lucia Gai, who registered her 90th cap for her country. Sara Barrattin, appearing in the second half, stays way ahead on 115.

It was Helen Nelson’s 50th cap, and her team did her proud. At last they could cast off the stigma of being the winless back-markers; indeed the result lifted them to fourth, a memorable turn-round for them. High emotions were on display at the end.