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Scotland 34 Italy 10: A battle that lets us believe again

A match to restore the nation's spirits, a result to restore the nation's faith.

Sean Lamont breaks free to score Scotland's fourth try    Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Sean Lamont breaks free to score Scotland's fourth try Photograph: Stewart Attwood

And a performance that should restore the confidence of the Scotland players as well, after the battering their self-esteem has taken in recent months.

Any objective assessment must allow for the fact that Italy were generally poor, and particularly hopeless at half-back, but Scotland still put them away with impressive efficiency.

And, remember, this was virtually the same Italy who beat France in Rome a week ago.

That result was billed as the one that finally established their credibility as a top Test nation, but Scotland blew that to smithereens with their vigour in contact and appetite for points.

Some scores came easily, others were the result of honest toil. But the most impressive aspect of the performance was the crispness with which Scotland used the ball, zipping it quickly along the backline and causing alarm bells to ring in the Italian defence almost every time they did.

Dean Ryan, the Scots' forwards coach, had asked for a back-to-basics game, but he got more than that. Where the side improved hugely on their efforts last weekend was in the spadework up front.

They were far from flawless in that regard, losing a couple of line-outs, but their areas of improvement were far more significant.

Embarrassed in contact by England at Twickenham, they dished out some stick of their own against the Italians, stealing a remarkable total of 12 turnovers.

They were also marvellously precise in the tackle. Italy's short passing game meant they had to make an extraordinary number of tackles, and make them they did.

They were perhaps a little dozy – and certainly more than a little tired when they allowed flanker Alessandro Zanni to claim a late consolation try for Italy – but other than that it was difficult to recall a missed tackle of any significance.

It was Kelly Brown's first win in five games as Scotland captain, and rarely has he played any better for his country. For a man who is meant to be filling in at openside, he seems extraordinarily adept at the job.

Some of Brown's work at the breakdown was quite remarkable, larceny of the highest order. His name has rarely come up as far as being a Lions contender is concerned, but in an age of great back-row players he could yet be on that plane to Australia.

Rob Harley, on the other flank, also put in a wonderful shift in his first start for his country. According to the official statistics, Scotland completed 146 tackles, and there were times when you would have sworn that Harley was making most of them.

Jim Hamilton, horribly off the pace a week ago, also showed what he was capable of, a hugely impressive response to the criticism that has come his way of late.

Scotland had not scored four tries in a Six Nations game since 2003 (also against Italy) and they took their chances superbly.

It was not wholly surprising that Tim Visser would get himself over the line at some point – four tries in six caps had engendered a certain level of expectation on that front – but nobody foresaw the floodgates giving way after he had scored his try with the game 27 minutes old.

That try was a beautifully simple affair, starting with a line-out on the left side that was a platform for some slick passing across the midfield.

Suddenly, Scotland switched the play back to the narrow side, and got the ball to Ruaridh Jackson, another who delivered a vastly improved performance.

Jackson sold the sweetest dummy to Luciano Orquera, then scooped the ball one-handed to Visser. The winger, at pace, side-stepped the last defender and flew over the line.

Greig Laidlaw had already clipped over a couple of penalties by that point. To be honest, Scotland had not dominated field position, but they were bossing so much else.

Orquera finally got Italy off the mark just before half time, but the 13-3 interval scoreline was a decent measure of Scotland's superiority.

Soon after the re-start they had the game all but tied up when Matt Scott took a short – and possibly forward – pass from Sean Maitland and powered over for the second try.

Laidlaw's conversion took the score to 20-3 – far more than Italy were ever going to overhaul.

The last gaffe of a number by Orquera was to gift the ball to Hogg with an interception.

Hogg claims to be the slowest member of the Scotland back three, but he looked rapid enough as he sped 95 metres to touch down. Unsurprisingly, Orquera was withdrawn immediately.

The final Scottish try, in the 69th minute, showed Sean Lamont to be as quick-witted as he is powerful.

The centre hacked away from a ruck, gathered cleverly and dived over by the posts.

Lamont punched the air as he went over, the kind of gesture that coaches tend to dislike, but it was the kind of day when he was entitled to finish with a flourish.

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