On a perfect night for rugby, Scotland pulled off a remarkable comeback to win in the dying minutes and break their duck in the RBS Six Nations championship.
Head coach Peter Wright summed it up in a single phrase: “We were dead and buried. But we won.”
For a coach who has also played for Scotland and the British Lions, it’s also some plaudit for the game to be named in his ‘top three rugby experiences’.
When all seemed lost and the Italians held an 11 point lead, tries for Mark Bennett and Harry Leonard turned the score on it’s head to give Wright’s side a last gasp, unexpected, but most welcome, win.
Wright said afterwards: “In sport you need luck and with the amount of time that was added on that’s what we had. But we were so brave. We showed a lot of courage, a lot of character to come away with that win.
“We were two scores down with just a few minutes left and I thought the Italians just kept trying to kill the clock, we were trying to play rugby. We had very strong officials tonight and that was really good to see.
“We knew we were fitter and we just kept on trying to play with pace. Keep the tempo up and they would struggle. We turned them over at scrums, and in the loose, and to score two cracking tries so late in the game is a real testament to the guys.”
Speaking to Italian press afterwards, Edinburgh Rugby stand-off Harry Leonard was asked to name two words to describe it. He could only manage one. “Incredible.”
It was a night of outstanding individual performances, with Leonard and his Edinburgh Rugby team-mate Robin Hislop, leading the charge but a night for all the team to celebrate a remarkable win.
In the early stages it was a turgid battle for possession as both sides struggled to find a rhythm.
The Italian left wing Sarto barged over for the first try after seven minutes after space was worked on Scotland’s blindside and although referee Davies called on the services of the TMO, there was no real doubt about the score.
With 15 minutes on the clock Scotland had yet to find their flow with possession hard to come by in the face of a big Italian pack. That size would come back to haunt them though as the pace accelerated through the game.
Scotland’s set piece, much like against Ireland, seemed to be misfiring with the scrum in particular coming under intense pressure. That was to be the Italian’s only source of attacking intent though as Scotland’s defence worked manfully to shut down the space.
A heavy collision between Falkirk’s Finn Russell and the Italian try scorer, Sarto, saw both players get back on their feet but Russell was swapped out near half-time still feeling the affects of the hit. Tommy Allan stepped into the centre and replacement Robbie Fergusson filling in at full back.
The first half continued as it began, with both sides fighting for territory but mistakes on both sides undoing any good work.
On 36 minutes Scotland edged back into the game with a penalty just outside the 22, Harry Leonard with the points but the Italians struck back just two minutes later with a penalty of their own to make it Italy 8 Scotland 3.
It was Scotland, though, with the last points of the half, a superb long range effort from the Edinburgh stand off making it a two point game
Halftime - Italy 8 Scotland 6
Scotland looked to use their superior pace and fitness and started to stretch the Italian side early in the second half.
But struggles in the scrum continued with a penalty to the Italians allowing them to clear their lines.
Jamie Swanson and Matt Torrance were introduced as Peter Wright looked to up the pace of the game and their first action was shoring up the defence as Scotland faced a scrum five metres out and right in front of the posts. The first collapsed and the Italians chose to scrum again but Scotland sneaked it against the head and were awarded a penalty as the hosts tried to win back the ball.
With 16 minutes of the second half gone, Adam Sinclair was deemed to have strayed marginally offside and Apperly stretched the lead with the boot to Italy 11 Scotland 6.
The visitors still seemed off the pace with hard work being undone by mistakes although the Italians next scoring opportunity came from a huge hit on Tommy Allan in midfield. The knocked on ball was hacked through with the home full back in a foot race with Mark Bennett to the ball, it was a race that Bennett won.
But Scotland were again penalized at the scrum and it led to Apperly’s third penalty in front of the posts to stretch the Italian lead to 14-6 with 22 minutes of the second half gone.
With the game running away from them, Scotland tried to open the game up further and began to play with a sense of adventure, running from deep in their own territory.
Given a yard of space Fergusson, Allan and Bennett looked threatening but the final pass couldn’t quite find the support. Another penalty from Apperly seemed to put the game beyond Scotland but the visitors had other ideas.
A step and a breakaway from Leonard set up space for the backs to work the ball through the hands and it was Mark Bennett who was able to fend off three tackles to touch down and put the game back in the balance with just a few minutes, if any at all, on the clock. Italy 17 Scotland 14.
The Italians were out on their legs and couldn’t keep pace with Scotland’s work rate, giving away penalty after penalty and the home side, crucially, were reduced to 14 men thanks to a yellow card offence, at a ruck and Scotland seized on the opportunity to step it up yet another gear.
Jamie Bhatti and George Turner showed the strength of the bench, coming on in the second half and nearly crossing the whitewash. Scotland showed patience at the base of the ruck and recycled ball after ball. Torrance took the option to move it wide, spotting the overlap had been created and it was Bennett again who aimed for the gap.
Although he was hauled down just short, Leonard dug the ball from the ruck and pounced over the line. His own conversion sealing a dramatic win for Scotland under-20 in the dying seconds.
Full Time: Italy 17 Scotland 20
15. David Odiete 14. Angelo Esposito 13. Giulio Bisegni 12. Michele Campagnaro 11. Leonardo Sarto. 10. John Apperly 9. Guido Calabrese
8. Vittorio Marazzi 7. Federico Conforti 6. Jacopo Salvetti 5. Matteo Ferro 4. Alessio Zdrilich 3. Pietro Ceccarelli 2. Giovanni Maistri (Capt)1. Sami Drissi
16. Alain Moriconi 17. Luca Scarsini 18. Antonio Brandolini 19. Luca Scarsini
20. Andrea De Marchi 21. Edoardo Padovani 22. Davide Farolini 23. Andrea Bettin
15. Tommy Allan 14. Jamie Farndale 13. Mark Bennett 12. Finn Russell (Sub 40 Fergusson). 11. Michael Crawley (Sub 74 Steven) 10. Harry Leonard (Capt) 9. Murray McConnell (Sub 50 Torrance)
8. Callum Reid (Sub 50 Swanson) 7. Will Bordill 6. Mitch Eadie 5. Jonny Gray 4. Adam Sinclair (Sub 60 Redmayne) 3. Alex Allan (Sub 71 Bhatti) 2. Fergus Scott (Sub 67 Turner)1. Robin Hislop
16. George Turner 17. Gavin Roberton 18. Andrew Redmayne 19. Jamie Swanson 20. Jamie Bhatti 21. Matt Torrance 22. Robbie Fergusson 23. Tom Steven