Italians deliver a kicking lesson in historic victory

David Llewellyn
Sunday 06 February 2000 01:00

History was made in the historical centre of the old world yesterday when Italy, the Six Nations newcomers, thrashed Scotland and smashed a couple of records to boot. It had been unthinkable. Only a couple of months ago Italy were on the wrong end of a hundred-point hiding from New Zealand.

History was made in the historical centre of the old world yesterday when Italy, the Six Nations newcomers, thrashed Scotland and smashed a couple of records to boot. It had been unthinkable. Only a couple of months ago Italy were on the wrong end of a hundred-point hiding from New Zealand.

Now, here in Rome, they were achieving what no one had managed against the Scots since this tournament came into being. England, France, Ireland and Wales had all lost their opening Five Nations' encounters to Scotland. Yesterday, Italy blew tradition out of the water, turned the old order on its head and broke thousands of Scottish hearts for good measure.

A passionate Italian crowd saluted their hero, the fly-half Diego Dominguez, as he left the field having laid waste the Scottish defences with a haul of 29 points including a hat-trick of drop goals - three kicks which in effect put paid to Scotland's hopes of victory.

The Italy coach, Brad Johnstone, was deemed to have worked a miracle when he guided Fiji into the quarter-final play-offs of the World Cup last October after four years' work with the South Sea Islanders.

But this morning that is as nothing compared with what he has achieved in just five weeks with the Azzurri.

The Italians were magnificent in all areas. They tackled like demons throughout, harried their more experienced opponents constantly and forced numerous silly mistakes and gained countless turnovers.

Up front, where the Scots might have expected to have seen off the early fires and taken charge of events, there was never any let-up, matching the Scots in every department initially and eventually bettering their so-called betters. The back row was unbelievable. Mauro Bergamasco and the former captain Massimo Giovanelli were in stupendous form, while Alessandro Troncon, the present captain, controlled events around the fringes. As Scotland lost possession so they lost their heads. And the match.

If there were few oversights by the Italians on the field, they showed a matching attention to detail off it. For the visit of the Princess Royal they had even gone to the lengths of constructing a toilet at the Stadio Flaminio, no doubt acceding to the command of the Royal We.

The early exchanges had been nervy and were not helped by what appeared to be a dodgy ball. Certainly, one of the half-dozen at the disposal of the two sides appeared to fly awkwardly, heavily almost, which probably accounted for Kenny Logan's two missed penalties in the opening 10 minutes.

But even Diego Dominguez managed to miss with his first sighter. He did not miss with his second though, a kick which cancelled out Gregor Townsend's 18th-minute drop goal.

By then, John Leslie's second attempt to finish a Test match for his country had ended in misery. He limped out of the fray after 12 minutes, bringing his total appearance time to just 66 minutes since the start of the World Cup. If the 40 minutes he managed in a warm-up against Glasgow is included he just gets his century this season.

The Scots' luck was not all bad though. Having slipped behind to a second successful Dominguez penalty they broke clear through the full-back Glenn Metcalfe. But when the New Zealand-born player was tackled by Alessandro Troncon he appeared to lose possession and the ball went forward.

The hooker Gordon Bulloch had the presence of mind to ignore the hysterical screams of outrage from the home crowd, hacked the ball over the line and flopped on to it. To the incredulity of the Italian supporters the South African referee, Jonathan Kaplan, allowed the score to stand and Logan piled injury on insult by making the simple conversion.

Television was inconclusive, some views suggesting that Metcalfe had managed a bicycle kick, therefore rendering the try legal, others that he had lost control and it should have been an Italian scrum.

Admirably, the Italians ignored the injustice, to focus on the rest of the match. Their reward came through Scotland's indiscipline, two penalties conceded within Dominguez's range and the joyous Azzurri trotted in two points to the good at half-time.

The Italian fly-half did not let up. Within seven minutes of the start of the second half he had delivered a wicked one-two with a brace of drop goals, the first from 35 yards the second a stunner from 42 yards, both of which left the Scots reeling. Worse, he then added his fifth penalty from fully 45 yards to open up a dishearteningly big gap for the visitors to work on.

All this time Logan was missing penalties as regularly as Dominguez was succeeding. Eventually, the Wasps wing gave up in disgust and handed the duties over to Townsend who had soon landed his first.

But although the Brive player also converted Scotland's second try, scored by Martin Leslie deep into injury time, Italy were out of sight. Just in case anyone doubted the reality of the situation, Italy's replacement prop, Giampiero De Carli, crashed through the flimsy Scottish cover after a series of rucks on the line and scored Italy's first try in the Six Nations' tournament. Of course Dominguez converted it and of course all of Rome went wild.

Italy: M Pini (Narbonne); D Dallan, M Dallan (both Treviso), L Martin (Bÿgles-Bordeaux), C Stoica (Narbonne); D Dominguez (Stade Français), A Troncon (Montferrand;capt); M Cuttitta (Calvisano), A Moscardi (Treviso), T Paoletti (Piacenza), C Checchinato, A Gritti (both Treviso), M Giovanelli (Rovigo), W Visser (Treviso), M Bergamasco (Padova). Replacements: G Lanzi (Calvisano) for Visser 20-24; M Rivaro (London Irish) for D Dallan, 46; A Persico (Viadana) for Bergamasco, 63; G De Carli (Stade Francais) for Paoletti, 66; M Mazzantini (L'Aquila) for Troncon, 80.

Scotland: G Metcalfe; S Longstaff (both Glasgow Caledonians), J Mayer (Bristol), J Leslie (Newcastle, capt), K Logan (Wasps); G Townsend (Brive), B Redpath (Narbonne); T Smith (Brive), G Bulloch (Glasgow Caledonians), M Stewart (Northampton), S Murray (Saracens), S Grimes (Newcastle), M Leslie (Edinburgh Reivers), G Simpson (Glasgow Caledonians), B Pountney (Northampton). Replacements: J McLaren (Bourgoin) for J Leslie, 12; S Reid (Narbonne) for Simpson 20-32; D Weir (Newcastle) for Murray, 71; D Hilton (Glasgow Caledonians) for Stewart, 72.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).

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