Scotland send Vern Cotter off on a high note with easy win over Italy

Gerard Meagher at Murrayfield
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Finn Russell dives over to score Scotland’s first try in their 29-0 Six Nations victory over Italy at Murrayfield.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Finn Russell dives over to score Scotland’s first try in their 29-0 Six Nations victory over Italy at Murrayfield. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

An emotional Vern Cotter signed off from Scotland, not quite with the style showcased earlier in the tournament but with the substance of three Six Nations victories in a campaign for the first time since 2006. The departing Kiwi even shed a tear and, considering the progress made over the past three years, his absence may make Scotland’s heart grow fonder still.

“It was nice. I had my whole family here. It’s been an honour and a privilege,” Cotter said. “It’s very nice to finish with a win in Murrayfield. [The send-off] something that will stay with me. I had my daughter with me as well. It’s just been really nice. It’s been great to be able to work with good people. I was a supporter before I came here. I’ll be a supporter again but with some emotional attachment.”

Scotland were not at their most fluent but tries for Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour made sure of the bonus point the sellout crowd were expecting. And it was a performance that rather aptly summed up Cotter’s tenure – a slow start, a storm weathered and a fast finish – and it ensures the New Zealander departs with 19 victories from his 36 matches in charge.

The opening quarter was, however, forgettable fare. A litany of mistakes, compounded by the wet weather, suggested the home side would stumble towards the end of their campaign and, when the referee, Pascal Gaüzère, called the captains together and told them, “I know it’s raining but there are so many mistakes,” it told its own story.

Up until then Scotland enjoyed the best of the aerial battle, Ali Price and Russell kicking well from hand, but Stuart Hogg’s early penalty was all either side could muster – Carlo Canna inexplicably missing from the tee after a shambolic passage of play. When the rain stopped,, however, Scotland started to play. A first line break was soon followed by another from Huw Jones, making a lovely late run, but he stumbled as he closed on the line. Eventually Russell found his way over in the left corner, looping round Price after Alex Dunbar had gone close – the fly-half continuing his fine form with the boot to convert.

Jones paid the price for his stumble, hobbling off to be replaced by Scott, but Scotland were emboldened. After Canna had missed another straightforward penalty, when Jonny Gray had obstructed Sergio Parisse, – that was an individual battle keenly contested throughout – Scotland were on the board again. Gray pinched a lineout from the Italy captain and Price, playing with the advantage, delicately kicked to the corner where Hogg beat Giovanbattista Venditti to the ball and knocked it back for Scott to score.

Russell was off target with the conversion, as was Canna, again, with his hardest penalty of the lot just before half-time, from wide out on the left.

It was no surprise after the restart then, when Italy were awarded another penalty on the left and Canna kicked to the corner. After another penalty – when George Biagi was pulled down at the lineout – Italy mauled their way to just short but when the ball was worked to the right, Edoardo Padovani and Angelo Esposito wasted the overlap. Hogg has been defensively questioned throughout this tournament and, while he, with the help of Scott, held up Esposito, it was a chance Italy really should have finished.

Scotland were persistently infringing, however, and the captain, John Barclay, paid the price with 10 minutes in the sin-bin. Penalty followed penalty but after hammering away Italy again went right. Esposito was again presented with the opportunity but Hogg’s covering tackle was excellent. The ball spilled backwards, though, but when all Padovani had to do was gather and dot down he knocked on. It proved to be as close as Italy would come.

Until then Hogg had been quiet as an attacking force but he came to life just after the hour, dashing down the left and chipping ahead, with Visser beating Russell to the ball for Scotland’s third try, converted by Russell.

There were 18 minutes remaining for the bonus-point score – and they required only another 10, Hogg turning provider again to release Seymour in the right-hand corner.

The outlook for Italy, who have now lost their last 12 Six Nations matches, would appear bleak but afterwards Conor O’Shea was in defiant mood. “I said to the players straight after, 29-0 was an incredible result,” he said. “You look at the first half and there was very little in the game.

“The biggest issue we have, or one of many, is confidence and, when you don’t have the scoreboard ticking over, it’s very difficult.”

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