THIS thumping defeat for Scotland Under-20s extended their miserable run without a win to a dozen matches, as Italian power proved too much for Kenny Murray’s side to cope with.
The Scots flew out to this Summer Series full of hope that they could stride forward after a tough Six Nations whitewash thanks to more players having been given exposure to Super6 rugby than was previously the case. However, on the evidence of this ineffectual performance, and the 45-15 drubbing to Wales last Saturday, the gap has widened significantly rather than been reduced.
There is a chance of some sort of redemption against Georgia next Wednesday but, given that the Eastern Europeans have been far more competitive in their two matches to date, that feels like a forlorn long shot at the moment.
Thereafter, it is a cross-pool match against either Ireland, England, France or South Africa – all serious heavyweights – which could be gruesome.
“We’re obviously disappointed, again,” said head coach Murray. “We made so many individual errors to out ourselves under pressure and that hurt us. We didn’t take our chances when we got them and conceded five line-out drive tries, which was the game.”
“Physically, we’re not where we need to be at under-20 level, so that’s a big thing, and we just need to be bringing through better quality players to compete at this level, so there is a lot of work to be done.”
It started ominously for Scotland with Italy taking the lead when clean line-out ball was shipped right across the park for winger Federico Cumineti to muscle past opposite number Kerr Johnston and over the line, with only one minute and 22 seconds played.
When the Azzurri scrum blew the Scottish eight apart just three minutes later, it looked like the writing was on the wall already for Murray’s men, but they managed to hang in there for the next 20 minutes – helped by several instances of Italian inaccuracy – before the Azzurri eventually doubled their account through second-row Alessandro Ortombina, who got the downward pressure off a line-out maul.
Whenever the Scots had possession, they found themselves running into a brick wall, until a couple of flashes of inspiration managed to pierce their opponents’ previously untroubled defence just before the half hour mark.
Ben Afshar’s broke from a quick tap-penalty and when he was eventually brought down, Patrick Harrison followed the scrum-half’s lead by picking up at the base of the ruck and taking route one before the Italian’s had set. The hooker then showed some impressive pace to round the final man to touch down under the posts.
Euan Cunningham’s straight-forward conversion from right in front of the posts briefly hauled it back to a three-point game, but Scotland then lost lock Josh Taylor to the sin-bin, paying the price for persistent team infringements, and Italy took immediate advantage, with hooker Lapo Frangini touching down at the conclusion of another powerful line-out drive.
The second-half was a stalemate, with both teams struggling to impose themselves, until Italy once again imposed themselves through their line-out drive on 65 minutes, with replacement hooker Giovanni Quattrini getting the final touch.
That definitively killed off Scotland, with Dewi Passarella and Quattrini again both adding to the home try-count, yet again from attacking line-out opportunities.
An injury-time try from Andy Stirratt provided scant consolation, although an optimist could argue that it provided the young Scots with some momentum to take into their final pool match against also winless Georgia on Wednesday.
Scotland G Jones (K Clark 73); R McKnight (B Salmon 50), D Munn, A Stirrat, K Johnston; E Cunningham (C Townsend 50), B Afshar (F Burgess 73); I Carmichael (J Lascelles 59), P Harrison (D Hood 57), G Scougall (A Rogers 65), J Taylor (J Spurway 72), M Williamson, L McConnell (M Deehan 57), R Tait (R Brown 64), O Leatherbarrow ( G Hiddleston 54).
Italy L Pani; A Gesi (D Passarella, 64), C Mey, F Lazzarin, F Cuminetti ((T Simoni 72); G Sante ( N Teneggi 11), S Battara (F Bozzoni 72); R Bartolini (L Rizzoli 54), L Frangini (G Quattrini 43), V Bizzotto (R Genovese 49), A Ortombina (F Ruffolo 68), A Mattioli (C Berlese 64), F Lovorenti (G Marini, 54), M Rubinato (G Cenedese 57), R Vintcent.
Scotland Try: Harrison, Stirratt; Con: Cunningham, Townsend
Italy Tries: Cuminetti, Ortombina, Frangini, Quattrini 2, Passarella; Cons: Teneggi 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-15 (h-t) 7-20; 7-22; 7-27; 7-29; 7-34; 12-34; 14-34.
Scotland Taylor (32mins)