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Parallels with past throw up tantalising prospect

It last happened almost 90 years ago when "The Flying Scot" was in his pomp alongside another high-class Antipodean-born winger, with both regularly released by two of Scottish rugby's all-time greats.

Tim Visser goes over for a try to set Scotland on the road to a comprehensive victory. Picture: SNS
Tim Visser goes over for a try to set Scotland on the road to a comprehensive victory. Picture: SNS

That is how long it is since four tries were scored by different Scotland backs in the same championship match, back in the days before self-harming insularity took hold and a nation started thrashing itself for the common-sense maximising of its resources.

The Australian-born Ian Smith, "The Flying Scot" of legend, scored a hat-trick on his debut in a 35-10 defeat of Wales on February 2, 1924.Johnnie Wallace – who would some years later face Scotland while touring with Australia, of which he, too, was a native – and those aforementioned playmaking greats Phil MacPherson and Herbert Waddell also crossed the opposition line. The latter's half-back partner William Bryce claimed a try too as, with a very different scoring system in place at the time, a near-identical scoreline to Saturday's win over Italy was registered.

The parallels with foreign-born wingers in Sean Maitland and Tim Visser and a potential superstar in Stuart Hogg having transformed the Scottish back-line threat when compared with a year ago, are obvious as well.

Yet what was striking was that a brilliant piece of work by Ruaridh Jackson crafted the opportunity for Visser's opening touchdown – his fifth in seven Tests – while Maitland was arguably the most incisive back of all but was not among the try scorers either.

Nor was 14-point Greig Laidlaw who far from undeservedly received the man-of-the-match award, albeit that was perhaps partly down to the scrum-halves union as Andy Nicol made the call in the TV gantry.

The extent to which this back division has been overhauled was summed up by the realisation that, among them, Jackson has most often performed in the role he undertook against Italy.

With that has come a transformation and, for all that many around the game consider him to be full of bluff and bluster, Scott Johnson, Scotland's interim head coach, has already done what he was initially recruited for by eliciting a hitherto unimagined capacity to threaten opponents.

Personnel is one factor, but clarity also seems to have been improved in terms of an emphasis on doing simple things well. In Jackson and Matt Scott, who has responded magnificently to being dropped ahead of the championship only to gain a reprieve when Peter Horne injured his thumb, Scotland have playmaking capacity behind Laidlaw, who is evidently now in his best position after his year as a stand-in, stand off.

Scott showed a nose for the line too, almost claiming the opening try just ahead of Visser; finishing things in every sense when a pre-planned move allowed Maitland to put him and his team clear early in the second half; and then having another ruled out for Maitland's marginally forward scoring pass.

Elsewhere, opportunism took over as Italy battled to get back into the game, only for Luciano Orquera to inadvertently present Hogg with the chance to show off his coruscating skill.

The full-back's explanation that his first instinct on making that interception was to avoid the big prop in front of him before the 90-metre corridor to the other end of the pitch opened up, said it all. Truly great players do things before they have thought about it, as exemplified by Hogg's handling, then footwork, in seizing that ball and dancing clear.

Sean Lamont's natural gifts may be of a different order, leaning more towards athletic power, but he, too, reacted brilliantly when charging through a ruck to release first the ball and then himself once he gathered it, to claim the Scots' final try.

As was clear against England a week earlier, though, all that finishing power is not enough in itself without the hard graft being done and, to that end, the way the pack stepped up the effort in the early stages set the tone.

Jim Hamilton finally offered some evidence as to why he is so frequently selected as he rampaged around to Italian discomfort amidst a front five that properly knuckled down. In the back-row, the exemplary Kelly Brown and flair-filled Johnnie Beattie got the support they needed from Rob Harley who was my man of the match.

If Johnson made any miscalculation it was in seeming to feel the need to keep the Glasgow flanker's feet on the ground after his first start for his country by pointing out, when invited to praise him at the post-match press conference, that he had missed his first tackle.

Afterwards Johnson partly corrected that, saying: "He is a kid we really like. We love what he stands for; he's resilient and he's tough, but we can't sit here after one performance and not acknowledge that he needs improvement. We're not here to blow smoke."

In a squad boasting so much back-line talent that Max Evans, previously seen as the only real creative spark, is being confined to cameo appearances, it is Harley's industry that truly shows the way forward.

It is, as all concerned were commendably at pains to say afterwards, far too soon to be getting overexcited. However, at last there is encouragement to be drawn from the present and the past.

After all, that 1924 win at Inverleith came the year before the opening of the current national stadium was marked by Scotland rounding off their first-ever grand slam success. Could this Murrayfield breakthrough herald something similar?

After that 1925 grand slam Scotland went on to defend the title successfully in each of the next two seasons. It may be too much to ask that history repeats itself to that extent, but signs of life have brought hope.

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