Paterson's nerve holds under sustained Azzurri attack

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The Independent Online

Rome acquired another set of ruins at the weekend - Italy's hopes of finishing this year's Six Nations Championship with a win.

For 77 minutes the Azzurri had gone toe-to-toe with the Scots, only for them to let their discipline slip at the last and present Chris Paterson with a nerve-jangling opportunity to kick the winning penalty.

Paterson, the scorer of Scotland's only try, seemed nerveless as he stepped up to the mark amid a cacophony of catcalls, whistles, air horns and jeers. The ice in Paterson's veins could not be melted by the heated crowd and he sent the long-distance kick over the bar.

Although he didn't show it at the time, Paterson had harboured a fear that the kick would not carry. "I was worried about the length of the kick, especially as I didn't strike it particularly well," he said.

"The Mitre balls [used by Italy] don't fly quite as far as the Gilberts. It takes five yards off the range. I don't think it cleared by much, but luckily it just crept over."

The kick presented Scotland with their best Six Nations finish - three wins out of five - as well as ending a run of away defeats that stretched back to 2002. Italy, though, have emerged from this year's championship a different proposition from the one which began the millennium with a win over the last Five Nations champions - Scotland.

In the 19th century the British went to Italy on the Grand Tour. In the 21st, in rugby's answer to those culture vultures of old, Italy are faced with a rugged itinerary of their own, a steep learning curve of visits to Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris and London and return visits to Rome. The Azzurri are beginning to show signs, after six years of immersion in such a culture, that they are about to come of age.

Their coach, Pierre Berbizier, is staying cautious. "We still need to demonstrate maturity on the pitch," said the former France scrum-half, captain and coach, who has instilled self-belief and steel into his team without losing any of their ingrained Latin bravura.

There really is very little separating Italy from the rest of the Six Nations. At no point did Scotland get a chance to pull clear of their gritty opponents. Just as Wales discovered the previous week in being held to a draw at home, the Italians are no longer the whipping boys. Indeed they are very close to wielding the whip themselves.

"Today we did not play 100 per cent to our ability," said Marco Bortolami, the home captain, "but we were close to the opposition. Next time we must try to win." On this evidence all it is going to take is a little time, some patience and perhaps a couple more streetwise players in the back row and out wide.

Scotland have struggled to score tries throughout this tournament, matching the Italians in mustering only five. Frank Hadden is an attack-minded coach and he admitted: "Our attacking play is a bit rusty. We have not done much in the last few weeks, but our defence was fantastic today."

The next big tussle to be witnessed by Romans is a general election next month, but it is doubtful that will match the passion generated by this gladiatorial confrontation in Rome's early spring sunshine.

Italy: C Stoica (Montpellier); P Canavosio (Calvisano), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), L Nitoglia (Calvisano); R Pez (Perpignan), P Griffen (Calvisano); S Perugini (Calvisano), F Ongaro (Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano), S Dellape (Agen), M Bortolami (Narbonne, capt), S Parisse (Stade Français), M Zaffiri (Calvisano), J Sole (Viadana). Replacements: C Festuccia (Gran Parma) for Ongaro, 65; A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila) for Castrogiovanni, 58; C Del Fava (Bourgoin) for Dellape, 71; A Zanni (Calvisano) for Zaffiri, 57; S Picone (Treviso) for Griffen, 13-21; E Galon (Overmach Parma) for Stoica, 25.

Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), M Di Rollo (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); G Ross (Leeds), C Cusiter (Borders); B Douglas (Borders), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Edinburgh), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Edinburgh). Replacements: D Hall (Edinburgh) for Lawson, 79; C Smith (Edinburgh) for Douglas, 58; A Kellock (Edinburgh) for Murray, 72; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 10; D Parks (Glasgow) for Ross, 65; S Webster (Edinburgh) for Lamont, 75.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).