Six Nations: Cosmopolitan backs at heart of Scotland's rise during victory over Italy
Visser, Maitland and Hogg play starring role as Italy are outclassed in Murrayfield romp
Monday 11 February 2013
Did you hear the one about the Dutchman, the New Zealander and the Scotsman? Everyone walked into the bars of Edinburgh on Saturday night toasting them – everyone except the Italian visitors, that is.
In Tim Vissser (a native of Zeewolde in the Netherlands), Sean Maitland (a kilted Kiwi from Tokoroa) and Stuart Hogg (a Borderer from Hawick), Scotland have discovered as potent a back three combination as they have ever enjoyed. At Twickenham on Six Nations opening day they scored two tries between them and at Murrayfield on Saturday they scored another two and set up one more as Scotland clicked into dynamic attacking form with a four-try, 34-10 demolition of Italy, conquerors of France the previous weekend.
That makes six tries in all for Scotland after two games –two more than they managed in the whole of their whitewashed, wooden spoon campaign of 2012, as many as they bagged in the entire 2011 Six Nations and twice as many as they plundered in 2010. All of a sudden, the hitherto dour, blunted Scots have found the kind of attacking verve and precision that hallmarked the revival of the Welsh in the mid-Noughties.
Scott Johnson was the attacking coach who breathed new fire into those Dragons. The Aussie is now the interim head coach of a Scotland team who proved on Saturday that, far from being possibly cut adrift from the rest of Europe's elite, they now possess a cutting edge which could threaten the continent's best.
"You can't put in what God left out," Johnson said about left wing Visser, right wing Maitland and full back Hogg, who have 12 months or less international experience and nine tries between them.
"I remember the early days with Wales, when we got a reputation as a free-flowing team. We didn't have people to go the distance. We had to pass a lot. They've got a long way to go and have ills in their game, but some special gifts. If they combine the gifts and improve the ills, we'll have a pretty deadly back three."
Visser needed no second invitation to step inside from the left touchline and take a beautifully delayed pass from stand-off Ruaridh Jackson to score on the half hour – a fifth try in seven appearances for the one-time England schools' flanker.
Then there was the vital incision that Maitland made into the attacking line to set up the second try for Matt Scott, whose centre combination with Sean Lamont is also starting to flourish. The piece de la resistance, though, was Hogg's perceptive interception of a Luciano Orquera pass 10 metres from the Scotland try line and his jink, swerve and sprint upfield to score. The 20-year-old might have the genius of George Best in his family genes, but after 12 caps he already looks like a Scottish rugby all-time great in the making – a combination of Andy Irvine and Jim Renwick.
Johnson was right, though, to keep Caledonian feet on the ground after a record Six Nations win for Scotland – and their first four-try feat in the championship for a decade. Lamont, who scored the other try with a wily hack out of a ruck and chase from halfway, was hailed as a back three sensation when he bagged a brace as a novice international winger against France in 2006 but before Saturday, he had scored just once in 42 Tests.
"That's one great win but it means nothing if we don't back it up next time," Johnson pondered ahead of Ireland's visit on Sunday week. "We did some really good things and showed some potency but need to get it right at the breakdown because the guys can't play without the ball.
"There has been a massive improvement from last week to this but it's still not where we want to be. To achieve the level we want to get to, we need to do this against the guys that do it best."
The flame-haired Rob Harley, making his first start at blindside flanker, the beavering skipper Kelly Brown and the assured John Beattie certainly got the better of the Italians at the crucial contact area – and in defence. Indeed, only when Beattie slipped on the turf six minutes from time did the off-colour Azzurri look like scoring, which Alessandro Zanni duly did.
Scotland: Tries Visser, Scott, Hogg, Lamont; Conversions Laidlaw 4; Penalties Laidlaw 2. Italy: Try Zanni; Conversion Burton; Penalty Orquera. Scotland S Hogg (M Evans, 73); S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott T Visser; R Jackson, G Laidlaw (H Pyrgos; 76) R Grant (M Low, 60), R Ford, E Murray (G Cross, 70) R Gray, J Hamilton (A Kellock, 67), R Harley, K Brown (capt; D Denton, 70), J Beattie. Italy A Masi; G Vednditti, T Benvenuti, G Canale, L McLean; L Orquera (K Burton, 48), T Botes (E Gori, 48); A Lo Cicero (A De Marchi, 60), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon, 60), M Catsrogiovanni (L Cittadini, 64), Q Geldenhuys (A Pavanello, 60), F Minto, A Zanni, S Favaro (P Derbyshire, 68), S Parisse (capt).
Referee J Peyper (South Africa).
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