• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Italy 20 Scotland 21: Weir's boot brings much-needed drop of cheer

No less an august personage than Julius Caesar apparently said he would rather be first in a village than second in Rome.

Delight is clear on the face of a grounded Alex Dunbar after his second Scotland try of the afternoon Photograph: SNS
Delight is clear on the face of a grounded Alex Dunbar after his second Scotland try of the afternoon Photograph: SNS

Duncan Weir clearly agrees. When the ball was whipped back to the fly-half with only seconds left on the clock in the Stadio Olimpico yesterday, being second in Rome was the last thing on Weir's mind.

The 22-year-old has never been hailed as a drop-goal specialist, but he struck his kick precisely. He also struck it so high it was difficult to tell from a vantage point in the stands whether it had gone between the posts, but referee Steve Walsh was in a rather better position, and his arm shot up to signal the score.

You felt for Italy at that point, but Scotland's first win of this year's RBS 6 Nations campaign was unquestionably deserved. In contrast to their miserable efforts against England two weeks ago, they played with tempo and purpose, sorted out their set-piece woes and kept their opponents on the back foot for all but a few minutes of the second half. At the finish, though, it was character that got them over the line.

The Scots will need more of the same against France in a fortnight's time. The French may be having one of their familiar meltdowns, but we may yet witness one of their equally familiar rebirths when they pitch up at Murrayfield. There was a powerful impression in Rome yesterday that Scotland wanted to answer their critics. France have many more right now.

It will also be a very different pitch to the one Scotland played on here. It suited their style and selection, particularly the splendidly rejuvenated Richie Gray, to play on the kind of perfect surface the Stadio Olimpico boasts, but they won't find anything like that at the heart of the Murrayfield swamp when Les Bleus come to visit.

Still, at least Scotland seem to have a functioning line-out again. Whatever the roots of the problem against England, its lurid consequences became clear as Scotland were starved of possession, continuity and momentum. With a 100% record on the touchlines yesterday, those qualities were restored.

The scrum did creak at times, but that was sorted out when Geoff Cross came on to replace Moray Low late in the first half. Coach Scott Johnson did not try to disguise the fact the change had been tactical, although the case for it was strengthened by the fact Walsh had warned Low about his scrummaging on a couple of occasions and the prop was in danger of picking up a yellow card.

There were also notable performances from Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar in the centre. Dunbar grabbed the glory with his brace of tries, but Scott's all-round workrate and quality were significant factors as Scotland shaped their game. Sean Lamont was a powerful runner as well, frequently committing three Italian tacklers before he could be halted.

Greig Laidlaw is unlikely to be as satisfied with his game. The scrum-half looked flat-footed, slow to move the ball on even when the forwards had worked heroically to make an injection of pace possible. Scotland played with a renewed spark when Chris Cusiter came on in his place.Will Johnson dare to leave Laidlaw on the sidelines for the France game? He has already dropped one Scotland captain in this campaign; dropping another would look like carelessness. But there was little question that Cusiter, whose sweet, swift pass put the ball on a plate for Weir's drop goal, added something the Scots had lacked.

But how different was the story we were ready to write at half-time. At that point, Tommy Allan was the only show in town. The fly-half, who turned his back on Scotland last year, pledging his future to Italy, scored all of his team's first-half points, with a try, conversion and two penalties.

The try had come just before the break. When the same thing happened against Ireland a few weeks ago, Scotland's response was a second-half implosion, but this time they had a different mindset. Laidlaw brought the deficit down to manageable proportions with a penalty - his second - shortly after the break, and it was cut to two points soon after afterwards when Dunbar scored his first try.

It came from ball stolen on the left side then swiftly moved to the right. Dunbar came steaming into the move, spotted a gap and kept on steaming through it. A few seconds later, he was over the line. The centre's second try came just after Cusiter's arrival, and the scrum-half played a huge part in it. He made a half-break near halfway, exchanged passes with Lamont and then released Dunbar. The midfielder still had a distance to travel, but he judged it brilliantly, beating a pincer movement before his stretch for the score.

Italy came thundering back into things a clever try by the excellent lock Josh Furno and a conversion by Lucciano Orquera with 10 minutes remaining. It looked like curtains for Scotland, but Weir had other ideas.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

214860