Old Hadrian must have been turning in his Roman tomb, wondering what all the fuss had been about. The land where Romans feared to tread rolled out the red carpet for Italy yesterday. After seven years of campaigning on the road, the Azzurri legion have a conquest to celebrate.
In the end, up the road from Hadrian's Wall, they did not have too much conquering to do. Scotland fell on their own sword in spectacular fashion, gifting a try in the opening minute and two more in swift succession. With a 21-0 lead in their lap and just six minutes played, Marco Bortolami and his colleagues merely had to hold on to the generously extended hand of opportunity and an historic Six Nations win outside Rome was theirs.
At least the Scots made them work for their fourth try, the Italian pack driving Alessandro Troncon over the line with five minutes remaining. At the final whistle, the veteran scrum-half and his team-mates paraded on a lap of honour in pirates' hats, leaving Scotland and their coach to totter along something resembling a plank.
In those opening six minutes of sheer madness, the Caledonian empire that Frank Hadden had spent the previous 20 months constructing shuddered to its very foundations. To France and England last year and to Wales two weeks ago, Murrayfield had been an impregnable Six Nations fortress. To the Italians yesterday, it was more like a bouncy castle - a bouncy castle with a gaping hole.
"As you can imagine, the dressing room is shell-shocked," Hadden said. "I take responsibility for wanting a fast tempo at the start and wanting to get the crowd on their feet and trying to make it difficult for the rush defence."
The Italian defence having rushed through for three quick scores, the trouble for Scotland's coach is that he has to rebuild for a re-match with the Italians in St Etienne in September, upon which passage to the World Cup quarter-finals is likely to hinge. With unrest behind the scenes - following confirmation of Rob Dewey's impending move from Edinburgh to Ulster, it emerged yesterday that Simon Taylor is pondering an offer from Stade Français - it is unlikely to be an easy task.
There were just 19 seconds on the clock when the Scots suffered their first self-inflicted wound, Mauro Bergamasco charging down an ill-judged attempt at a clearance kick by Phil Godman and racing 15 yards to score. Andrea Scanavacca added the extras with the boot and two minutes later the Italian outside-half stole a stray feed from Chris Cusiter on the 22-metre line and scored himself.
It got worse for Scotland. Two minutes further on, Cusiter flung a reckless long pass to the wing Kaine Robertson, who cantered home from 40 yards. All of which left Chris Paterson and his stunned troops needing to play catch up with knobs on.
Five times before the interval the Scots spurned pots at the posts to go for the line instead. Only once before half-time did they succeed, Donal Courtney allowing Dewey a score on the crash ball, though the referee appeared to have impeded a couple of defenders.
Paterson landed the conversion and the one penalty he attempted before half-time but, with Scanavacca adding a penalty to his tally at the other end, Scotland turned round 24-10 down. It took them 21 minutes to make inroads, Paterson racing from halfway to score in the left corner and adding the conversion.
It was the Italians, though, who had the final say on the scoreboard. Scanavacca kicked two penalties and converted Troncon's try to return a seven-from-seven card with the boot and a personal points tally of 22. All of which made it an occasion to forget for Scott Murray, on the day he equalled Gregor Townsend's record haul of 82 Scottish caps, but an afternoon to remember for the Italians and their French coach, who never savoured victory at Murrayfield wearing the blue shirt of his homeland.
"For Italian rugby, this day was a dream," Pierre Berbizier reflected. "Now it's a reality."
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Lamont (Northampton), M Di Rollo (Edinburgh), R Dewey (Edinburgh), C Paterson, (Edinburgh, capt); P Godman (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (Borders), G Kerr (Borders), D Hall (Edinburgh), E Murray (Glasgow), N Hines (Perpignan), S Murray (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Edinburgh), D Callam (Edinburgh), K Brown (Borders). Replacements: A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) for E Murray, 39-40 & for Kerr, 50; A Hogg (Edinburgh) for Callam, 50; N Walker (Ospreys) for Godman, 59; R Ford (Borders) for Hall, 59; R Lawson (Gloucester) for Cusiter, 68; J Hamilton (Leicester) for S Murray, 74; A Henderson (Glasgow) for Dewey, 77.
Italy: R de Marigny (Calvisano); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), A Masi (Biarritz); A Scanavacca (Calvisano), A Troncon (Clermont Auvergne); A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila), C Festuccia (Gran Parma), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), M Bortolami (Gloucester, capt), A Zanni (Calvisano), S Parisse (Stade Français), Ma Bergamasco (Stade Français). Replacements: C Nieto (Gloucester) for Castrogiovanni, 17; M Zaffiri (Calvisano) for Masi, 34; F Ongaro (Saracens) for Festuccia, 59; S Perugini (Toulouse) for Lo Cicero, 59; V Bernabo (Calvisano) for Dellape, 65; R Pez (Bayonne) for Scanavacca, 80.
Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).
History Boys: Italy's road to Six Nations recognition
1995: The Azzurri beat Ireland 22-12 in Treviso.
1997: Ireland beaten 37-29 at Lansdowne Road in January and 37-22 in Bologna in December, when Ireland are coached by Brian Ashton, now England's head coach. Beat France 40-32 in Grenoble in March.
1998: Beat Scotland 25-21 in Treviso; push England in a World Cup qualifier in Huddersfield, losing 23-15 and having a crucial try disallowed.
2000: Win first Six Nations match, 34-20 against Scotland in Rome, with a try by Giampiero De Carli and kicks from Diego Dominguez.
2003: Second Six Nations victory, 30-22 against Wales in Rome.
2004: Third Six Nations victory, 20-14 against Scotland in Rome.
2006: First Six Nations point, away, an 18-18 draw with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
2007: First away Six Nations win, 37-17 against Scotland at Murrayfield. Alessandro Troncon scores the clinching try.Reuse content