LEWIS STUART @ Stadio Olimpico
SCOTLAND have been here before. Four years ago Duncan Weir did it with a drop goal. The year before that, it was Greig Laidlaw with a conversion when the teams met in Pretoria. And this time too it was Laidlaw who played the get-out-of-jail card with a penalty.
They have proved they have the steel to pull results out of the fire against Italy, but should not take too much more than the result away from this. They could just as easily have lost, with the bench proving the killer weapon as they came good in the final quarter to rescue the game just as it looked as though Italy were starting to build up a head of steam.
Gregor Townsend accepted that in many respects this was a substandard performance from his squad, but also suggested that the way in which they had found out how to win despite their shortcomings was a good sign. “We didn’t play our best, but we certainly upped our game and got the win,” the head coach said.
“That’s going to put us in good stead, winning away from home, winning when we’re behind, when we come up against the challenges over the next 12-18 months that we’ll face.
6N: Laidlaw has last word as Scots scrape home in Rome – match report
“[The game] obviously wasn’t going too well for us in the first half. They controlled most of the possession, were very strong with the ball carries, narrowing up our defence.
“We didn’t have as much possession as we had against Ireland, sometimes down to our errors, but also Italy playing very well. In the second half, we showed that we are capable of a reaction, finding out what was working for us, which was the maul, and finishing those opportunities.
“Italy can feel that it was one they were in control of for most of the game. Our fitness was a big factor, it was great pressure. We went ahead two or three minutes before [Laidlaw’s winning penalty] and we would have been really disappointed to have lost.”
Try, try and try again
Scotland’s four tries came from Fraser Brown and John Barclay in the first half, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg in the second, and the full-back Hogg suggested it was the winger’s try that marked a turning point in proceedings. “With the character in this squad I knew we could come back fighting, and as soon as we got that try off Sean Maitland I felt we were very much in control,” Hogg said. “We wanted to keep the game flowing as much as we could and the tries would come on the back of it.”
Asked how he assessed the Six Nations as a whole, Hogg said it had been a campaign of mixed emotions, but one in which Scotland could on balance reflect with some satisfaction after three victories took them into third place in the final table. “We’re definitely on the right track. I think last week was bitterly disappointing for us. We viewed that as our semi-final to give us an opportunity to win it this week, but we came up short.
“We’re in a good place. The main thing for us is to constantly learn and improve, individually and collectively, and come the summer tour to be in a better place than we are now.
“A big part of our game is doing the basic things well, time and time again. When our work rate is spot on then we are going to carve teams open and score tries. We can see that during the championship, when it’s worked well we’ve scored tries on the back of it, so for us it’s just becoming more consistent, doing it home and away.
“I think the shape we try to play, we are going to be scoring tries. Looking to get better individually and collectively and be in a position to play for trophies next season.”
Barclay agreed that becoming more consistent was the key to victory, and also praised Laidlaw, his predecessor as captain. “When we are accurate, we are very good,” the flanker said. “We played some good stuff. When we played accurately and held onto the ball, we put them under a lot of pressure.
“That was tough out there. We have one of the best goal-kickers in the world and he stepped up to win the game.
“We were calm, got a little bit of a foothold and just started to control the ball a bit better. The guys are just happy, exhausted, relieved. Happy that we came here and left with three wins out of five. We will look back and reflect on the grander scheme of things in the next few weeks.”