Scotland Character Snatches Deserved Win

A dramatic fight back saw Scotland under-20s snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in front of an ecstatic home support at Dens Park in Dundee.

After an early exchange of penalties it was Italy who were first to cross the whitewash before holding off waves of Scotland attacks until late in the game.

Three Scotland miss-kicks threatened to spoil the hosts’ attempts to find even ground but an inspired replacement by head coach Eamon John saw the game swing back in Scotland’s favour in spectacular fashion in the dying seconds in front of a jubilant 1023 crowd.

Scotland celbrate the deserved win 

A dramatic fight back saw Scotland under-20s snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in front of an ecstatic home support at Dens Park in Dundee.

After an early exchange of penalties it was Italy who were first to cross the whitewash before holding off waves of Scotland attacks until late in the game.

Three Scotland miss-kicks threatened to spoil the hosts’ attempts to find even ground but an inspired replacement by head coach Eamon John saw the game swing back in Scotland’s favour in spectacular fashion in the dying seconds.

The home side started well with several cleanly recycled phases forcing the visitors to give away the early penalty.

Full-back Peter Horne took the points to give Scotland first blood though his Italian counterpart Alberto Benettin made no mistake with his long distance equaliser minutes later.

Ashleah McCulloch forces his way through the Italy defence

Scotland looked set to build on their early score from the outset with powerful carries from second-row Richie Gray and some lightning footwork from outside-centre, and man-of-the-match, Ashleah McCulloch [pictured].

Pressure turned into penalties as Italian indiscipline saw Scotland awarded a second chance to regain the lead but Horne’s effort was well wide of the mark.

While Scotland continued with their powerful possession play through phases deep in Italian territory, a careless Scotland error gifted Italy the first try of the match.

A scrappy offload attempt inside Scotland’s 22 allowed hooker Andrea Manici to intercept and score. Alberto Benettin converted to give Italy the shock advantage, 3-10.

Despite conceding, the home side maintained their momentum and continued to threaten the Italians with more thundering thrusts from Gray and number 8, Stuart McInally, whose powerful line-breaks got the Italians on the retreat and the crowd on their feet – though the Scots still could not score and went in seven points adrift at the interval.

Half time: 3-10

John made two changes for the second half with Adam McKenzie coming on at wing in place of inside-centre Steven Wilson - with captain Paul Loudon moving to inside-centre– while Douglas Orr joined the front-row in place of Gavin Cameron.

The home side quickly got back into the swing of things and their first try opportunity went begging when McCulloch showed remarkable strength for such a lean frame to break tackle after tackle en route to the posts but was brought down on the five metre line.

Despite recycling the ball well and spinning it wide, the resulting chip through was knocked on at the corner flag as players from both sides scrambled for the ball.

Scotland were then offered a second chance to come into contention as a reckless Italian challenge saw McKenzie brought down in the air on the Italian 22 - the referee awarded the penalty without showing a card and Horne’s kick went agonisingly wide of the left upright.

Scotland continued to threaten the Italian try area with the influential Gray fighting off tacklers to carry the ball deep into the opposition red zone once more but opting to go blind from the resulting ruck proved costly as last gasp Italian defending forced Scotland into touch to end the attack.

Continued pressure resulted in Scotland being awarded the second penalty of the half in kicking range but Horne – the player who scored all of Scotland’s points in the side’s historic win over Wales three weeks ago – looked on in disbelief his third kick of the evening sailed past the upright along with what at the time seemed to be Scotland’s hopes of a home win.

It was then that coach Eamon John sought to shake up the backs with Robbie McGowan coming on for Horne and with just eight minutes left Scotland got the score they had threatened all game.

The formidable Richie Gray crashes thourgh the Italians

Gray [pictured] made yet another break, taking the ball at pace and crashing through tacklers before offloading to Douglas Orr who gained more hard earned yards before being brought down on the edge of the Italian 22.

Scotland’s support quickly cleared the tackle area and the ball made its way out wide to McGowan who offered a neat inside pass to Loudon who came belting through on the angle to crash through the gap and dive over at the corner to the delight of the home crowd.

However McGowan’s failed attempt to add the extras had the crowd back on their seats for a nervous finish as Scotland trailed 8-10 with five minutes remaining.

But the young Scots refused to give up on the win.

Unrelenting Scotland pressure forced the Italians to give away a penalty on their 22 and with four missed kicks so far in the match – the most recent coming from the current kicker – the crowd sat silent in anticipation before erupting as McGowan’s boot put the Scots ahead for the first time since the early exchanges of the first half.

Soon after, the Italians were again at fault. Their indiscipline cost them dear as Scotland earned another penalty which had the potential to end the game.

Scotland opted to go for goal from a similar kicking position that gave them the lead minutes earlier.

McGowan’s boot was as crisp as before and the crowd leapt to their feet as they sensed that Scotland had clinched the victory that was so deserved but seemed so unlikely just moments before.

Scotland needed only to recycle a few phases from the restart before kicking the ball out of play to seal the thrilling come back.

Full time: 14-10

Attendance: 1023

Scotland under-20 head coach, Eamon John, said: “From the first whistle we tried to play. For the first ten minutes we were all right but the next thirty I thought we had lost a bit of confidence and they were defending well but we gave them something to defend.

“At half time we were pretty accurate but we had to tidy our own game up – we had to be more direct, we had to squeeze and hold on to the ball a bit more and in the second half we got the accuracy and we got the work rate.

“To turn it around in a test match when the clock’s going against you shows outstanding character. We got a really good scrum when we needed to – we were the team that played rugby all night.

“Test rugby is all about winning and I’ve just said that to the players. We decided at half time that we had to tidy our game up and we did tidy our game up and we showed good character to go on and win the test match, and that’s the important thing.”

Scotland under-20 are next in action against Ireland on Friday 13 March at McDiarmid Park, Perth (kick-off, 7.30pm) – admission is free.

Scotland under-20 team v Italy at Dens Park, Dundee on Friday 27 February (kick-off 7.30pm)

15 Peter Horne* (West of Scotland)
 
14 Paul Loudon (Durham University and Edinburgh Academicals) CAPTAIN
13 Ashleah McCulloch+ (Aberdeen Grammar)
12 Steven Wilson (Stirling County)*
11 Grant Anderson* (Ayr)
10 Andrew White+ (Glasgow Hawks)
9 Henry Pyrgos (Loughborough University)

1 Gavin Cameron+ (Stirling County)
2 Finlay Gilles (Heriot’s)
3 David Morton (Bridgwater)
4 Nick Campbell+ (Glasgow Hawks)
5 Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
6 Struan Dewar+ (Heriot’s)
8 Stuart McInally* (Watsonians)
7 Chris Fusaro* (Heriot’s)

Substitutes
16
Ryan McConnell + (Peebles)
17 Douglas Orr+ (Haddington) on for Cameron
18 James Taylor (Loughborough University and Dundee HSFP)
19 Tom Drennan+ (Edinburgh Academicals)
20 Peter Jericevich* (Glasgow Hawks)
21 Robbie McGowan (Stirling County) on for Horne
22 Adam McKenzie (Northumbria University) on for Wilson

* = denotes National Academy
+ = denotes National Academy supported by Area Institute of Sport

Italy under-20
15. Alberton Benettin, 14. Edoardo Gori, 13. Denis Majstorovic, 12. Tommaso Benvenuti, 11. Giovanbattista Vendetti ,10. Tomasso Iannone, 9. Luca Martinelli, 1.Andrea Lovotti, 2. Andrea Manici, 3. Lorenzo Romano, 4. Filippo Cazzola, 5. Joshua Furno, 6. Filippo Ferrarini, 8. Luca Petillo CAPTAIN, 16. Antonio Denti, 17. Carlo Fazzari, 18. Lorenzo Contini, 19. Gabriele Cicchinelli, 20. Stefano Scanferla, 21. Sebastian Rodwell, 22. Nicola Giuliano

Referee: D Philips (IRU)

Admission is free to all Scotland’s age-grade, A, and Women’s 6 Nations home matches. No tickets or vouchers are required

Scotland under-20 6 Nations fixtures:
Friday 13 March - Scotland under-20 v Ireland under-20, McDiarmid Park, Perth (kick-off, 7.30pm)
Friday 20 March - England under-20 v Scotland under-20, Sixways Stadium, Worcester (kick-off 8pm)