Andy Robinson has been this way before. His maiden Six Nations campaign as head coach of England started with Mathew Tait being shunted halfway to Newport – by a one-time rugby player by the name of Gavin Henson – and defeat against Wales in Cardiff, followed by defeat against France at Twickenham and defeat against Ireland in Dublin. His first championship win in full charge of the English side came at the fourth time of asking, against Italy at Twickenham.
Five years on, in his reincarnation as Scotland's head man, Robinson's Six Nations record reads: played three, lost three. So might it be fourth time lucky again this time round? We shall find out on Saturday week, when it just so happens that the visitors to the west end of Edinburgh will be sporting the red rose emblem of Robinson's native land. A quiet little affair, that promises to be.
"We're here to win matches and that's what we're going to be focusing on," Robinson said in the wake of another one that got away from his side – a reverse every bit as frustrating as the late capitulation in Cardiff a fortnight previously, given that Scotland paid 22 visits to the home 22 without registering a five-pointer while Italy had one try-scoring chance and took it.
"There's a way that we're trying to win matches and, looking forward, we've got to able to play with the ball in hand and attack," he added. "We've also got to work that little bit harder at the breakdown because England will be very tough around that area.
"Apart from the results, I feel that we're moving forward. But this is a results business and that's what you've got to deal with. Today the way we tried to play was really positive but a defensive lapse gave them seven points and that's what cost us the game."
It might have been different had Nigel Whitehouse, the television match official, been blessed with a less cluttered view on one of the two occasions on which Allan Jacobsen, Scotland's loosehead prop, was adjudged to have been held up over the home try-line. "Allan felt he got over on the first one," Robinson said. "But if you can't see it you can't give it, can you?"
It might have been different, too, had, Sean Lamont's run-in from a quick tap penalty shortly before half-time been allowed to stand as a try – or, indeed, if referee Dave Pearson had not merely insisted on a re-taken penalty but also sent Josh Sole to the cooler for the deliberate ball-killing act that prompted the Geordie official to blow his whistle in the first place.
In the final analysis, Robinson's men lacked the dynamism, precision and penetration they had shown for 70-odd minutes in Cardiff. They still should have won, though, forcing 111 tackles from a home side that played largely on the back foot. The Italians had one big chance and seized it, with the outside centre Gonzalo Canale shooting through a yawning defensive chasm with 13 minutes to play and teeing up the replacement scrum-half Pablo Canavosio for the game's only try.
It gave the Italy their first Six Nations victory since Scotland's last visit, in 2008. "It's not as if we get many wins, so every single win we have is just fantastic," Nick Mallett, their head coach, reflected. "It's really great for the players and really good for the staff."
How much it meant to the staff was clear in Alessandro Troncon's reaction when the Azzurri stole possession in injury time. The scrum-half-turned-backs-coach thumped the table on the coaches' bench with such force he smashed the thing, then turned round and walloped the metal facia in front of The Independent's seat in the press box and jumped up on the broken table in celebration. We would hate to be in the vicinity on a losing day for Italy.
Scorers: Italy: Try Canavosio; Conversion Mirco Bergamasco; Penalties Mirco Bergamasco 3. Scotland: Penalties Parks 3; Drop goal Parks.
Italy: L McLean (Treviso); A Masi (Racing Métro), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), G Garcia (Treviso), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français); C Gower (Bayonne), T Tebaldi (Parma); S Perugini (Bayonne), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano, capt), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), Q Geldenhuys (Viadana), M Bortolami (Gloucester), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), A Zanni ( Treviso). Replacements: P Canavosio (Viadana) for Tebaldi, 52; M Aguero (Saracens) for Perugini, 69; C del Fava (Viadana) for Bortolomi, 69; K Robertson (Viadana) for Garcia, 69; F Ongaro (Saracens) for Ghiraldini, 73.
Scotland: H Southwell (Stade Français); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Glasgow, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow). Replacements: A Strokosch (Gloucester) for Beattie, 55; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 55; N De Luca (Edinburgh) for Danielli, 65; N Hines (Leinster) for Hamilton, 69; A Dickinson (Gloucester) for Murray, 69, Murray for Jacobsen, 73.
Referee: D Pearson (England).Reuse content