A precious win - a nagging feeling of loss

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The Independent Online

Matt Williams had already turned to a Blackadder for help, Todd of that particular surname having assisted him with his forwards last year. Perhaps it was with a cunning plan in mind, then, that Scotland's head coach should look towards a son of Hartlepool to get the growing monkey off his back.

Matt Williams had already turned to a Blackadder for help, Todd of that particular surname having assisted him with his forwards last year. Perhaps it was with a cunning plan in mind, then, that Scotland's head coach should look towards a son of Hartlepool to get the growing monkey off his back.

Hartlepudlains are also known as monkey-hangers, in recognition of the legend of the creature that swam ashore from a French shipwreck, during Napoleonic times, and was summarily strung up, upon suspicion of being a hirsute Gallic spy.

Simon Webster was born and raised in Hartlepool, which may or may not have influenced Williams' thinking in drafting the Edinburgh wing into his starting XV at Murrayfield yesterday with a view to removing the burden of pressure and negativity that has been mounting on the back of the Scotland coach.

Without a win at Murrayfield in his 16 months in the post, without a win after seven matches in the Six Nations, and with the prospect looming of a first back-to-back Caledonian whitewash in the championship for 51 years, Williams was staring at the possibility of being hung out to dry as he took his seat in the West Stand at 1.50pm. By 3.40pm the Sydneysider had succeeded in slipping free.

Or rather the Azzurri had generously levered him off the hook. Before kick-off the Italians had failed to keep their No 3 shirt on its peg in the visitors' dressing room, necessitating Leandro Castrogiovanni's appearance in the No 17 jersey. And with all bar two of the six kicks they aimed at the posts missing, they contrived to let a first championship win on the road go similarly AWOL.

John Kirwan presumably felt like kicking himself as the game drifted away from his team in the second half. He probably would have done a more accurate job of it than either Roland de Marigny or Luciano Orquera. Between them, the Bangor old boy and the fly-half from Cordoba missed three eminently potable penalties and a dropped goal as Scotland stood marooned in their own half for 53 minutes, as becalmed as the Ancient Mariner's cursed vessel.

In their anaemic change shirts, Williams' men looked like a whitewash waiting to happen. "A rugby ball is like a bar of gold and we must treat it accordingly," the Australian had written in his programme notes. When his players managed to get the ball in their hands, though, they treated it like a spelk-ridden wooden spoon.

Webster saw it sparingly and got no farther with it than the opposition 10-metre line. Unlike Hadrian's legions, these Italians had no need to construct a grand defensive wall to keep out the Scots. Instead, it was the boot of Chris Paterson that came to Scotland's - and Williams' - rescue. The Edinburgh full-back kicked like a mule: six place kicks out of six, from a full range of angles and distances. Each one rubbed salt into the wounds of Kirwan, a one-time butcher.

As a life-long teetotaller, Paterson was a suitable match winner. It was such a sobering, sterile contest it was unworthy of being a wooden-spoon decider. A plastic spoon, perhaps.

Not that Williams could have cared. "As Moses said, when he parted the Red Sea, that will give them [the Scotland players] a lot of confidence," he responded in the interview room later, when the sterility of the play and the sustained booing by the crowd were mentioned. "We just needed to kick more points than the opposition and we did that."

All of which left poor Kirwan still without a win at Murrayfield. He never got the chance to play here as an All Black wing, having been deemed too young for the tour of 1983 and too old for the 1993 trip. He has lost in Edinburgh three times as coach of Italy and now needs to find a solution to what he acknowledges as "the mental problems" of his place kickers.

Perhaps he could borrow Dr Tony Westerby, the sports psychologist who helped put Scotland in a winning frame of mind yesterday. It was all so different in Kirwan's playing days. All it took back then was a little pre-match dance, and an all black cloak of invincibility.

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