Scots' Stark reality

Scotland 29 Italy 22 Tries: Stanger 18, Try: Penalty try Logan 43, 58, Stark 69 Pens: Dominguez 5,16, 25, 59 Pens: Shepher d 8 Con: Dominguez 63 Cons: Chalmers 43, 58, 69 Drop: Dominguez 12 ; Half-time: 8-12
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The Independent Online
The last time Scotland met Italy, in Rieti in January, they needed the nominal mask of an A team guise to hide the embarrassment of a 29- 17 defeat. At Murrayfield yesterday the one error committed by Diego Dominguez, the Argentine-born ace behind the Italian pack, saved Scotland from the ignominy of a draw on home soil against the nation England steamrollered 51-24 at Twickenham last month. But victory failed to hide the Scots' red faces at the final whistle.

It was Scotland's first win since Welshman Arwel Thomas' failed touchline conversion left them a Calcutta Cup short of the Grand Slam last February. It was such an unassured, error-ridden performance, though, that Richie Dixon must be praying his players can once again reach the Five Nations' heights they managed to hit after that setback on Italian turf. "We made mistakes," the Scotland coach conceded, "but at least we did it trying to play positive rugby - trying to get the ball out to the wings."

There was, indeed, the novel sight of three Scottish wings scoring tries. But the ultimate difference between the teams was the rub of the green that finally went against Dominguez 11 minutes from the end as he attempted to hack the ball clear of Craig Chalmers on the halfway line. It was the only kick the outside-half from Cordoba scuffed all afternoon. As Derek Stark raced clear and touched down, the relief was audible - from the men in white shirts, if not from the shivering souls in the stands.

The Highland Band struck up "Oh! Come all ye faithful" before the kick- off but those who invested faith in the national XV (at pounds 15 a time) numbered a good deal less than half of Murrayfield's 67,000 capacity. Accustomed as most of the Italians are to playing before crowds barely scraping into three figures, the visitors made themselves markedly more at home than they did - with a less solid team it must be said - at Twickenham.

By the ninth minute they had nine points on the board and a six-point lead, courtesy of Dominguez, who landed two penalties and a 40-yard drop goal. A Rowen Shepherd penalty was Scotland's sole reply until a move that cut through the blue defensive line after 18 minutes. It was sparked by Bryan Redpath and finished, after Shepherd chipped into the right corner, by Tony Stanger. The Hawick man has 21 international tries, three fewer than the Scottish record Ian Smith established between 1924 and 1933.

Indiscipline in the home ranks always invited punishment and Dominguez made Scotland pay for another penalty before the break to give Italy a 12-8 lead. It was not until the 42nd minute that the Scots took the lead, Kenny Logan applying the finish to a sweeping cross-field attack that featured a deft scooping pass by Damian Cronin and an "assist" by fellow lock Andy Reed.

Chalmers converted then added a further two points after Scott Hastings rode three tackles in midfield and held up the ball for Logan - dropped back to full-back after Shepherd's withdrawal with a hip injury - to score his second try.

Scotland, though, were never able to dominate up front as England had against the Italians, and their 10-point cushion slipped away. Dominguez kicked his fourth penalty then stole possession on his 22 and launched the break which led to the penalty try Scotland conceded for consistently killing the ball.

The Italian No 10 converted to level the scores at 22-22. Dominguez's lapse then gave Scotland the opportunity to lever themselves off the hook. He also left his hosts rather grateful that the hurdle looming ahead of them is only a five- nation competition.

Scotland: R Shepherd (Melrose); T Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Townsend (Northampton capt), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), A Reed (Wasps), M Wallace (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: D Weir (Newcastle) for Cronin, 53; D Stark (Melrose) for Shepherd, 42.

Italy: J Pertile (Roma Olimpic); N Mazzucato (Padova), P Vaccari (Calvisano), I Francescato (Treviso), Marcello Cuttitta (Milan); D Dominguez (Milan), A Troncon (Treviso); Massimo Cuttitta (Milan), C Orlandi (Milan), A Castellai (Treviso), G Croci (Milan), W Cristofoletto (Treviso), M Giovanelli (Paris University Club), O Arancio (Milan), A Sgorlon (Treviso). Replacements: L Manteri (Treviso) for Mazzucato, 65; A Moscardi (Treviso) Orlandi, 39.

Referee: D Gillet (France).

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