An hour after the deed had been done, and Andrea Marcato's last-minute drop goal had sealed Scotland's fate, Frank Hadden was in the press room at the home of the rugby-playing Azzurri reflecting on a Six Nations campaign that his charges finished with four defeats, one Calcutta Cup and within a three-point differential of the wooden spoon. Scotland's head coach spoke of "a difficult preparation," of problems with the release of players from their clubs. "We trained in extremely difficult weather conditions," he added. "We had illness. We had a constant stream of injury and unavailability."
It was the Ides of March and the mind wandered to Kenneth Williams' performing his celebrated Caesarean speech: "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me." Whether the Scottish Rugby Union has got it in for Hadden remains to be seen, but the critics will doubtless be sharpening their knives.
Not that the coach could entirely be blamed for a performance of calamitous Carry On dimensions by Dan Parks. According to the official statistics, the Glasgow outside-half topped the individual error count with seven – though, as someone suggested, that might not have included getting out of bed on Saturday morning.
It is hard to pin the blame for any defeat on one man but it was difficult not to attach a charge sheet to the back of Parks' No 10 jersey. At the World Cup last autumn he was voted players' player of the tournament by his fellow squad members, in recognition of the kicking game he can perform with controlled functionality. In this Six Nations Championship, though, his limitations have been hugely exposed.
Against France, in Scotland's opening game, Parks hoofed the kick-off into touch and then made the lamest of attempts to save a try with an attempted fly-hack that turned into an air shot. Restored to the starting line-up on Saturday, once Chris Paterson had been shunted to the left wing in place of the injured Nikki Walker, he produced a masterclass of misplaced feeds.
He had already got away with one howler before executing the Dambuster delivery that found Kaine Robertson and led to a penalty try as the Scottish pack hauled down a scrum in the right corner. There was another soon after, before Scotland got the game as good as in the bag, Ally Hogg darting over on the right and Mike Blair doing likewise under the posts to give Hadden's men a 17-10 cushion at the interval.
Italy were out of it until Parks slung a hopeful pass into the arms of Sergio Parisse, deep in home territory. Scarcely believing his good fortune, the Italian captain raced 50 yards up the right, lobbed a scoring pass to Gonzalo Canale, and the Azzurri had the wind in their sails that carried them to victory.
Marcato delivered the coup de grâce with 24 seconds of game time remaining, dispatching a drop goal from 15 yards out with Wilkinsonesque precision. Nick Mallett rose to his feet and punched the air in jubilation. For much of the afternoon Italy's head coach had been beating his fists down on the desk in front of him, more often than not when Andrea Masi, the centre he has been attempting to reinvent as a stand-off, spurned attacking opportunities by taking ill-considered options. In the 14 minutes that Marcato spent at fly-half, having started at full-back, the young Treviso player looked like the possible answer in Mallett's problem position.
Paterson could well be the solution for his country in a spot that has become an Achilles' heel for the Scots. The trouble is that for five years now Scotland coaches have been giving only periodic starts at fly-half to Paterson, who has landed a succession of 33 goal-kicks in the Test arena, stretching back to the World Cup warm-up against South Africa at Murrayfield in August. A lasting run in the No 10 shirt is long overdue.
Italy: A Marcato (Treviso); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), E Galon (O Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), S Picone (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), C Del Fava (Ulster), M Bortolami (Gloucester), J Sole (Viadana), A Zanni (Calvisano), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: J Erasmus (Viadana) for Del Fava, 47; S Perugini (Toulouse) for Lo Cicero, 57; C Nieto (Gloucester) for Castrogiovani, 58; P Travagli ( 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 (Edinburgh, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), F Thomson (Glasgow), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), S MacLeod (Llanelli), A Strokosch (Gloucester), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Stade Français). 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.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
ATTENDANCE: 40,000Reuse content