February 02, 2019
Scotland 33-20 Italy
• Three late Italy tries in vain with Scotland well clear
Blair Kinghorn hat-trick sparks Scotland’s Six Nations victory over Italy
Blair Kinghorn scored Scotland’s first Championship hat-trick in 30 years as the home team got their Six Nations campaign off to a competent start against a limited Italian side. Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris also touched down as Gregor Townsend’s team had the bonus point wrapped up with 25 minutes to play, but some chaos and confusion ensued in a final 10-minute spell which saw Italy, who previously had only a penalty to their name, claim three tries to put a gloss on the scoreline.
The sin-binning of the substitute Simon Berghan was the catalyst for that late lapse, and Townsend is well aware that his team will have to tighten up in some respects before Ireland visit Murrayfield on Saturday. On balance, however, the head coach was satisfied with a performance during which his team improved significantly on the autumn Tests in areas such as the breakdown and the kick chase.
Asked if his players were down at the end of the game because of its unsatisfactory conclusion, Townsend suggested it could be regarded as a salutary reminder of the work they have to do before the tougher challenges that await.
“Yes, and maybe it’s not a bad thing. It’s the first game of the tournament and we’re playing the No 2 team in the world on Saturday. We’re then going to a place where we’ve not won in 20 years, then playing the No 3 team in the world, then going to a place where we haven’t won since 1983.
“Feet on the ground is good for us,” Townsend continued. “We’ve started with a solid win and scoring five tries is a credit to the players. But we know next week’s challenge is going to be huge and we have to get the focus right almost immediately. The players will start to absorb the gameplan and what we need to do better to win next week.”
The Italians might easily have conceded more than five tries, and though they did take an early lead through a Tommy Allan penalty, Scotland needed only two minutes to hit back through Kinghorn. Greig Laidlaw stole the ball at the breakdown following the restart, and Finn Russell angled an inch-perfect kick for Kinghorn to gather and run in from the edge of the opposition 22. Midway through the half Kinghorn again got on the end of a wide move to score.
Josh Strauss, a substitute for the injured Sam Skinner, began the move with a pick-up from the base of a scrum. He fed Laidlaw, who switched direction to Russell, and the stand-off then looped around the debutant Sam Johnson before passing to Hogg. The full-back’s pass to Kinghorn went to ground, but the left winger was nonetheless able to take it in his stride and sprint over in the corner.
Blair Kinghorn hat-trick sparks Scotland’s Six Nations victory over Italy
The Azzurri did rally towards half-time, but they were repelled. Scotland increased the tempo from the restart and a third try seemed only a matter of time. They got it after 47 minutes when Hogg beat Angelo Esposito in the race to ground a kick into the in-goal area from Russell – even though a replay cast doubt on how much downward pressure the scorer had exerted.
Scotland had half an hour to get the fourth try and claim the bonus point. They only needed five minutes. Laidlaw and Jamie Ritchie exchanged passes, and the captain put Kinghorn through from 15 metres out. Another conversion made it 26-3.
With the game won, Townsend went to his bench, and one of the replacements, Harris, got the fifth try with his first touch after another astute break by Hogg set up good position. With Laidlaw having given way to Ali Price, Russell took over the duties and converted to make it 33-3.
Italy rallied in what remained of the game, and scored three late tries. The first was from short range through Guglielmo Palazzani after Berghan had been sin-binned for collapsing the maul, with Allan’s conversion taking them into the respectability of double figures.
Edoardo Padovani got the second with a simple score after Scotland had run out of numbers on the right, but the substitute Ian McKinley was off target with the conversion. Angelo Esposito got the third, again from a break up the right, with two minutes left. The winger drop-kicked his conversion attempt back off the post.
That late recovery notwithstanding, the Italians’ limited contribution has to be a concern to Conor O’Shea, who has yet to enjoy a win in the tournament as their coach. “We hadn’t the ball – pretty simple,” the coach said when asked to explain the defeat.
“It felt like were defending the whole time. I’m disappointed, because if we’d held on to the ball we’ve got players who can do damage. We know the challenge. We know we’ve started a process that is doing the right thing – and we have a lot to do.”
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