Record win for McGeechan as Scotland come in from the cold with vibrant display

Scotland 47 Italy 15
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The Independent Online

Scotland unveiled a back division worthy of the name, Italy showed their image of snarling miscreants has not entirely gone away, and the Scottish Rugby Union launched a World Cup song that made the toes tap rather than curl. All in all, a pleasantly revelatory afternoon beyond the fringe of the Fringe.

While in nearby Festival-land Julian Clary was almost certainly inviting his audience to give him a warm hand upon his entrance, Scotland came in from the cold - a conditioning session of cryotherapy in Poland, to be precise - with a performance that had few major shortcomings given the early-season circumstances.

Under the captaincy of Scott Murray for the first time, on the occasion of the lock's 50th cap, the Scots kept the 25,000 crowd entertained and confirmed that their World Cup preparations are where they want them to be.

"I thought we scrummaged well, which helps," said Ian McGeechan, Scotland's coach. "Wins are very important, even in build-up games. The other vital factor is good, competitive game-time, which this was."

Six Scotland tries - three in each half - were rammed soundly home, although the best of all was Italy's second, a length of the field movement finished off by Nicola Mazzucato which made it 28-15 after 46 minutes.

Italy came down from three weeks' fitness training in the Dolomites with a performance of 19 penalties and occasional spite that was as old as the hills. "It is plain to everyone," said John Kirwan, the Italy coach, "that if you go to the World Cup without a good defence you won't get very far. We have to improve."

Nevertheless, Italy's rolling maul caused a few problems, and then there was the ratings game within the match regarding Scottish individuals and combinations. Is Jon Petrie a natural openside flanker? Probably not. Is Gordon Ross a world-class stand-off? Ditto. Mike Blair spared no effort declaring his candidacy as Bryan Redpath's scrum-half back-up, but McGeechan continues to appear strangely disinclined to give Chris Paterson another chance at 10 to go with the non-cap international he had against the Barbarians last May.

Elsewhere, Simon Danielli got a try and a busted nose as twin souvenirs of a promising Test debut. It was, the powerful Bath wing admitted, a timely push for a World Cup place, if a dent to his pulling power on Saturday evening. "It's an exciting time to be involved in the squad, especially for any back three player," Danielli said. "Hopefully I'll get another cap along the way somewhere."

Next up for the Scots after this record win over a Six Nations opponent are Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, then Ireland in Edinburgh. Italy visit the Irish in Limerick this weekend and, with Leeds' new flanker Aaron Persico struggling to shake off a groin injury, Kirwan may give the sometime wing Mauro Bergamasco a run in his preferred position in the back row. As the Italian federation's vice-president reminded the post-match reception - getting a laugh Clary would have appreciated - Rome wasn't built in a day.

Scotland: Tries White, McLaren, Blair, G Ross, Danielli, Laney; Conversions G Ross 2, Paterson 2; Penalties G Ross 3. Italy: Tries: Palmer, Mazzucato; Conversion Pez; Penalty Pez.

SCOTLAND: B Hinshelwood (Worcester); S Danielli (Bath), J McLaren (Bayonne), A Henderson (Glasgow), K Logan (Wasps); G Ross (Leeds), M Blair (Edinburgh); T Smith (Northampton), R Russell (Saracens), B Douglas (Borders), S Murray (Edinburgh, capt), N Hines (Edinburgh), J White (Sale), S Taylor (Edinburgh), J Petrie (Glasgow). Replacements: C Paterson (Edinburgh) for Logan 2; G Bulloch (Glasgow) for Russell 34; B Laney (Edinburgh) for Henderson 61; M Leslie (Edinburgh) for White 61; I Fullarton (Sale) for Hines 68; G McIlwham (unattached) for Douglas 68.

ITALY: G Peens (Overmach Parma); N Mazzucato (Calvisano), A Masi (Viadana), A Stoica (Montpelier), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français); R Pez (Leicester), A Troncon (Treviso, capt); A Lo Cicero (Lazio), C Festuccia (GrAN Parma), S Perugini (Calvisano), S Dellape (Treviso), M Bortolami (Padova), M Zaffiri (Calvisano), M Phillips (Viadana), S Palmer (Treviso). Replacements: G Canale (Treviso) for Peens 26-28, 58; Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français) for Zaffiri 51; S Parisse (Treviso) for Phillips 51; F Ongaro (Treviso) for Festuccia 65; R Martinez (Treviso) for Perugini 65; F Mazzariol (GrAN Parma) for Mazzucato 65.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).