Frank Hadden is not the first man in these parts to think he had escaped the Ides of March with his well-being intact, only for the dagger to do for him late in the day. There were 24 seconds remaining on the clock in this north Roman amphitheatre when Andrea Marcato struck the decisive blow that landed smack between the posts but must have been felt by Scotland's head coach somewhere 'twixt the shoulder blades.
The drop goal executed with brutal precision by Italy's full-back consigned the Scots to another painful defeat, their fourth out of five matches in a Six Nations campaign upon which they embarked with hope of greater things than one more Murrayfield mugging of the English and a hair's breadth avoidance of the wooden spoon. It remains to be seen whether Hadden will survive with his job, a minimum target of two wins per Six Nations campaign having been mentioned when he signed a performance-related new contract in December.
"It's a very, very tough job," he said yesterday. "It's a huge honour and a privilege to coach your country and it's absolutely right that you have a period of appraisal after every championship. We'll be working on that with the players very soon."
Some of those players did their coach few favours yesterday as they followed their street-smart Calcutta Cup win over the auld enemy with something more along the lines of Oh! Calcutta! Dan Parks had already handed a try to the hosts with a reckless intercept pass before he gifted a second on the hour, with the game looking as good as in the bag for Scotland. The Glasgow fly-half was in hapless form yesterday, topping the individual error count by a distance. It was an indictment of the Scots that Italy's handling of both the match ball and the ebb and flow of play was so sloppy it had Nick Mallett hammering his fists into the desk in front of him on countless occasions.
When Marcato's late drop hit the spot, though, Italy's head coach of three months jumped to his feet and punched the air in celebration of his maiden victory. "It doesn't bother me that we finished bottom of the table," Mallett reflected afterwards. "I come from the southern hemisphere, where you get a point for finishing within seven points of the opposition in games. On that score, we would have finished ahead of Scotland."
Which was another ingredient to add to the mix of Caledonian woe which started yesterday with Parks getting away with his third-minute intercept and Simon Danielli falling victim to an ankle injury. The first damage on the scoreboard came in the 13th minute after a long pass by Parks landed at the feet of Kaine Robertson. The Kiwi-born wing's chip into the right corner initially came to nought but when the home pack had the back-pedalling Scots attempting to collapse a scrum the referee, Nigel Owens, awarded a penalty try, Marcato adding the extras in front of the posts.
Scotland struck back in the 22nd minute, Ally Hogg darting over on the right. Chris Paterson converted and then a long-range Parks penalty nosed Hadden's men into a 10-7 lead. Marcato landed a kick from similar distance, but in first-half injury time Mike Blair picked up from the base of a ruck 25 metres out and raced over the whitewash.
Paterson's conversion gave Scotland a 17-10 cushion at the break and they were protecting it with some ease until Parks flung out a wild pass deep in home territory. It was gratefully snaffled by Sergio Parisse, Italy's captain, who raced some 50m before lobbing a pass inside for centre Gonzalo Canale to score under the posts.
Marcato's conversion levelled the scores at 17-17. Then the young Treviso player exchanged penalties with Paterson before the dramatic denouement. A try in the left corner would have given Italy the five-point winning margin they required to leave the Scots clutching the wooden spoon. With the clock ticking down and the Caledonian defence holding out, though, Marcato swung his right boot and landed the drop that won the match and left Scotland heading homewards to think again.
Italy: A Marcato (Treviso); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), E Galon (Overmach Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), S Picone (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), C Del Fava (Ulster), M Bortolami (Gloucester), J Sole (Viadana), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt), A Zanni (Calvisano). Replacements: J Erasmus (Viadana) for Del Fava, 47; S Perugini (Toulouse) for Lo Cicero, 57; C Nieto (Gloucester) for Castrogiovanni, 58; P Travagli (Overmach Parma) for Masi 62;E Patrizio (Petraca) for Picone, 63; F Ongaro (Saracens) for Ghiraldini, 69.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), S Webster (Edinburgh), G Morrison (Glasgow), C Paterson (Gloucester); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (capt); A Jacobsen (both Edinburgh), F Thomson (Glasgow), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S MacLeod (Scarlets), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Taylor (Stade Français), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Replacements: A Henderson (Glasgow) for Danielli, 5; S Lawson (Sale) for Thomson, 53; J White (Sale) for MacLeod, 53; A Dickinson (Gloucester) for Jacobsen, 58, C Smith (Edinburgh) for E Murray, 58; K Brown (Glasgow) for Hogg, 71;
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content