Italy prove too strong for young Scots

Scotland slipped to defeat in today’s World Rugby U20 Championship 9th place semi-final as Italy proved too strong in terrible conditions at Rosario’s Club Old Resian.

Although two late tries brought Scotland within touching distance [19-26] with just a minute remaining, the match was always in Italy’s favour as the Azzurri’s line speed in defence and athletic runners in attack proved the difference on the day.

The match was suspended on the stroke of half-time due to a lightning storm in the area and the delay lasted nearly an hour as officials waited for conditions to clear.

That period of uncertainty certainly didn’t work in Scotland’s favour as further tries from Damiano Mazza and impressive stand-off Paolo Garbisi ultimately secured the win for the Italians.

Scotland will now face either Georgia or Fiji in Saturday’s 11th place play-off, with the loser of that fixture relegated from next year’s competition.

Scotland captain, Connor Boyle, gave an honest assessment following today’s loss and said: “Those last two tries shows the kind of resilience this team possesses, but it was just too late.

“We played a full 80 minutes and we just didn’t perform well enough for the entirety of the match.

“We’re in a fight now. You can’t come last in this tournament, so we’ve just got to get back to training and work hard.

“We’ve got to turn up on Saturday with a real dog in our attitude. We pride ourselves as being a nation of fighters and we’ve certainly got to show that out on the pitch.” Scotland U20 captain, Connor Boyle

With the rain bucketing down at kick-off, the opening 10 minutes of action saw both sides struggle to dictate the game in what were truly treacherous conditions.

Italy did show the early impetus in attack and with a series of penalties arising from dominant scrum play, the Azzurri worked themselves into a number of promising positions in the opening series.

Scotland’s defence was up for the task at hand, however, and the age-grade side soon turned that tenacity at the breakdown into points with the game’s opening try.

With Ross Thompson spiralling a penalty the corner, an accurate lineout drive saw Ewan Ashman roll over the whitewash – his fourth score of the Championship. Ross Thompson curled over the resulting conversion. [7-0]

Italy have showcased their attacking threats throughout this year’s tournament, scoring an abundance of tries and soon the Azzurri – who defeated Scotland in the U20 Six Nations earlier this year – would draw level.

With Jacopo Trulla collecting a neat chip and chase on half-way, the full-back was able to sidestep his way to the try-line for the match-levelling score. Stand-off Garbisi converted from in front of the sticks. [7-7]

With the weather effecting each side’s ability to string together phases, there were plenty of handling errors which often worked to Italy’s advantage. Behind a monstrous scrum the Azzurri were able to win a number of penalties, giving them superior field position.

And that positioning soon payed dividends as the Italian’s scored their second of the day from a set-piece strike. With a chipped kick ricocheting behind the onrushing Scottish defence, it fell perfectly for winger Edoardo Mastandrea who had the simple task of dotting down. [7-14]

Then came the moment that would ultimately have a huge impact on the game. With a lightning storm in the area, the referee deemed it unsafe for the match to continue and in the 37th minute play was suspended.

The delay would last well over 45 minutes and with the rain continuing to fall, the condition of the pitch was worsening at a rapid rate. Both sides agreed to play the final three minutes of the half as the game resumed and Italy would grab their third of the afternoon.

With a scrum only metres from the Scottish whitewash, the ball was eventually recycled to centre Mazza who bruised his way over try-line. Garbisi missed the resulting conversion and Italy led 7-19 at the half.

With no half-time break, Scotland were straight back into the action to begin the second period and the age-grade side showed plenty of signs of improvement. Strong breaks by Jack Blain and Connor Boyle gave the young Scots a platform to which attack, but too often the final pass was dropped.

Italy would take advantage of those missed opportunities and soon thereafter the Azzuri would score their fourth try of the afternoon.

With yet another dominant scrum creeping forward, stand-off Garbisi was able to glide through a gap before powering in from 20 metres out. As Garbisi converted his own score, the Azzurri led 7-26 with less than 20 minutes to go.

With nothing to lose, Scotland couldn’t afford to play in a reserved manner, so with skipper Boyle driving on his teammates, the age-grade upped the intensity in the final stages.

Following a number of penalties inside the Italian 22m – which eventually resulted in replacement number 8 Antoine Koffi being sent to the bin – Scotland made the most of their numerical advantage in the 78th minute as Ashman powered over to grab his second of the match and fifth of the Championship. [14-26]

That score sparked the young Scots into action and only a minute later, the highly unlikely appeared achievable as winger Blain showcased his speed by racing in from half-way.

Although Thompson missed the resulting touchline conversion [19-26], it set up a wild finish as Scotland had the implausible opportunity to draw level.

Despite securing possession and working the ball up to half-way with time well expired, it simply wasn’t to be as the Italian defence eventually forced a handling error to bring an intense match-up to a close.

Next up: Saturday 22 June - Scotland U20 v Fiji U20 or Georgia U20; World Rugby U20 Championship 11th place play-off, Club Old Resian, Rosario (kick-off 2.30pm BST) – streamed live on worldrugby.org.

live commentary 2:30 PM Monday 17 Jun 2019

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