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Scotland 20 - 41 Italy

Scotland went down to defeat by seven tries to two against a smart Italian side at Scotstoun tonight, who made their power and incisive running skills count.

It was the visitors’ ninth win in ten meetings with Scotland and the hosts will now return to Scotstoun next weekend to face Wales in the fifth-place play-off for the 2021 Women’s Six Nations Championship.

Scotland deserved credit for engineering a fight-back from an early 0-12 margin, but a try conceded in added time before the interval was a real scunner.

The home points came from tries by Lana Skeldon and Emma Wassell with the remainder from the boot of captain Helen Nelson.

It was a glorious sunny afternoon at Scotstoun for Scotland's first home match of the 2021 Championship.

Head coach Bryan Easson had made four changes to his starting line-up from the loss to England with Evie Gallagher making her first start at blindside flanker replacing Rachel Malcolm who sustained a knee injury in that fixture.

Megan Kennedy at prop, Sarah Law at stand-off and Liz Musgrove on the wing were Scotland’s other alternations as they faced an Italian side four places above them in the World Rugby rankings.

Both teams observed a minute’s silence before kick-off to respect Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; former Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttuitta and his fellow former Italian captain Marco Bollesan and former Murrayfield Wanderers player and ex Scottish Rugby staff member, Julie Gates who had all passed away this month. They also continued to stand as rugby united against racism.

Italy won the game’s first penalty and opted for the touchline for No 8 Elisa Giordana to catch in the middle, but the throw was ruled not straight. The Italian scrum appeared to win the subsequent put-in against the head but a fumble at the back from scrum-half, Sara Barattin gave Scotland another chance to clear.

It was a high tempo opening from the visitors and from their own scrum put-in, centre-field, Giordana picked up, Barattin linked, captain Manuela Furlan intruded on the short ball and centre Beatrice Rigoni was in for the try. Michela Sillari converted (0-7, 7 mins).

Scotland restarted long but a missed tackle on Rigoni and a home lineout tap-down lost, enabled Italy to get on the front foot and work the ball right to left for Furlan to outpace the Scotland defence for a fine try. The conversion went astray. (0-12, 9mins).

A penalty to touch from Lisa Thomson gave Scotland a foothold just outside the Italian 22, but another lineout misfire denied Scotland an opportunity to build an attack.

Skeldon, however, soon atoned, exploding on to an Italian lineout error to take Scotland into the visitors’ 22 with a characteristically energetic carry.

A subsequent scrum penalty enabled Scotland to fire the ball up the touchline. From the close-range lineout, Wassell gathered, her forwards muscled on and Skeldon got the textbook drive-over try. Nelson goaled a cracking conversion (7-12, 23 mins).

Italy launched another percussive attack with forwards and backs combining in response, but Rigoni lost the ball in the act of scoring courtesy of a thumping tackle from Law, the decision to rule out the try verified by the TMO.

Into the final ten minutes of the half and Scotland won a scrum penalty and Thomson’s boot gave them a promising field position, only for another lineout blip to short-circuit that chance.

A shoulder charge on Scotland’s scrum-half Mairi McDonald earned the hosts a penalty. The now familiar routine of kick to touch, lineout win through Wassell and drive, ensued, but the Italian defence repelled that advance, albeit conceding a penalty.

A repeat of the ploy was planned but the lineout woes resurfaced. Unperturbed, Scotland defended solidly from the scrum and Italy were penalised for a wipe-out beyond the breakdown. Nelson landed the goal (10-12, 40 mins).

The game restarted with the clock now in the red. Crucially, Wassell could not gather and Italy, with captain Furlan again threatening on the left, recycled for the powerful flanker Ilaria Arrighetti to thunder over by the posts. Sillari converted, an infuriating try for Scotland to cough up having done so much good work to pull back from a 0-12 deficit (10-19, 40+mins).

Half time: Scotland 10 -19 Italy

The floodlights were on for the second-half and the hope for the home side was a similarly bright restart.

Instead ,it was Italy, with some crisp handling and intelligent recognition of space around the breakdown who struck again.

Chloe Rollie had to make a try-saving tackle on Barattin, but Italy kept their composure and full-back Vittoria Minuzzi scampered down the blindside of a close-range ruck for their fourth try. The conversion was wide (10-24, 42 mins).

Scotland’s go-to routine, Wassell at the lineout and a driving maul, set up a high tackle penalty on Siobhan Cattigan for Nelson to pull back three points (13-24, 45 mins).

Scotland then had to show their resolve in defence, securing a turnover from a lineout maul and then winning a scrum penalty as the Italian backs continued to look menacing with their pack giving them some choice front-foot ball.

Italy were dominating territory at this juncture and you sensed if Scotland were to maintain their hopes of a first win against the Azzurri since 2017 then they had to withstand this onslaught.

Sadly, after a decent defensive set, Italy again found space on the narrow side for Furlan to cross for her second try. The conversion was wide (13-29, 58 mins).

To Scotland’s credit they tested the Italians with a prolonged attack inside the final quarter, shortly after Coreen Grant had won her first cap from the bench.

But the latent threat of the Azzurri backline was shown once more as Rigoni bruised through on the left for her second try and Italy’s sixth (13-34, 67 mins).

Scotland showed heart in the closing stages and from the source of much of their creativity, Wassell at the lineout, that triggered another driving maul and after a few tilts, Wassell bulldozed in for the score herself. Nelson converted (20-34, 74 mins).

The sharpness in the visitors’ backs brought down the curtain on the contest as Furlan raced in for her third try, converted by Sillari, but only after Scotland’s close-range defence had thwarted a forward surge on the right (20-41, 80 mins).

Full-time: Scotland 20 - 41 Italy

Scotland: Chloe Rollie (Harlequins); Liz Musgrove, Lisa Thomson (both unattached), Helen Nelson (Loughborough Lightning) CAPTAIN, Megan Gaffney (Heriot’s); Sarah Law (unattached), Mairi McDonald (Hillhead/Jordanhill); Leah Bartlett (Loughborough Lightning), Lana Skeldon (unattached), Megan Kennedy (Stirling County), Emma Wassell (Corstorphine Cougars), Louise McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Evie Gallagher (Stirling County), Rachel McLachlan (unattached), Siobhan Cattigan (Stirling County).

Subs: Jodie Rettie (Saracens), Lisa Cockburn (Darlington Mowden Park) for Bartlett (69 mins), Panashe Muzambe (Edinburgh University/Watsonians), Christine Belisle (Cartha QP) for Kennedy (46 mins), Nicola Howat (Sale Sharks), Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning) for McDonald (54 mins), Evie Wills (Stirling County) for Law (69 mins), Coreen Grant (Saracens) for Musgrove (60 mins).

Italy: Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi; Manuela Furlan CAPTAIN, Michela Sillari, Beatrice Rigoni, Maria Magatti; Veronica Madia, Sara Barattin; Erika Skofca, Melissa Bettoni, Lucia Gai, Valeria Fedrighi, Giordana Duca, Ilaria Arrighetti, Francesca Sgorbini, Elisa Giordano

Subs: Lucia Cammarano for Gai (59 mins), Gaia Maris for Skofca (65 mins), Michaela Merlo, Sara Tounesi for Fedrighi (78 mins), Isabella Locatelli for Duca (69 mins), Beatrice Veronese for Sgorbini (77 mins), Sofia Stefan for Barattin (71 mins), Aura Muzzo for Minuzzi (65 mins).

Referee: Nikki O’Donnell (England). Assistant referees: Aurélie Groizeleau and Doriane Domenjo (both France). TMO: Ian Tempest (England).

SP Energy Networks Player of the Match: Beatrice Rigoni (Italy)

live commentary 5:00 PM Saturday 17 Apr 2021

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