2024 Women’s Six Nations – Italy 10 – 17 Scotland – Talking points

Scotland found a way through to a first win over Italy in Italy in 25 years, despite a somewhat scrappy performance. Although below their best, they bounced back from defeat to England, and showed enough to seal their second win of the tournament, against a team they haven’t had much Six Nations success playing in the past.

Scotland keep their heads

More than anything this match really showed Scotland’s mental resilience, surely honed during their bad run in 2022 and which has become a massive asset this season. Scotland weathered an early Italian passage for the first 5 or 6 minutes and then took control of territory and possession, but a few frustrating errors and excellent Italian defence meant the match was scoreless for the first half hour.

Italy were the first to strike with a smart set play capped off with customary individual brilliance from worldie-try machine Alyssa D’Inca. Scotland didn’t looked phased by this, and were clinical on their next attack, responding with their own try from a line-out maul just a few minutes later.  Although they never managed to get out of sight of Italy, they eked out enough of a lead and held on well in a nervous last few minutes to ensure they secured a historic win.

Despite their run of good form, Scotland were the underdogs in this match, away from home against a team one place in the rankings higher, who they hadn’t beaten in Italy since 1999. The win predictor gave Italy a 67% chance of winning.

Yet Scotland’s growing self-belief held firm and helped them see out the game.

Defence puts the pressure on Italy

Italy are known for their fast, intricate attacking game and over the past few years, a failure to deal with this is one of the reasons Scotland have struggled to get the better of them. Scotland had confirmed against France that they are now a serious defensive unit, who can much better contain a side playing a high-risk, high reward style.

They were impressive in wrapping players up in double tackles and slowing down the quick ball that Italy thrive on, or putting pressure on the pass with organisation and commitment when Italy broke through and built up a head of speed. 

Although their tackle completion rate won’t have been as high as they would have liked, missed tackles didn’t cost them particularly. D’Inca scored two brilliantly taken tries against France, so the one conceded here was nothing to be overly worried about.

The other way Scotland managed to contain Italy was to largely starve them of possession and territory. Italy rarely kick long and Scotland were able to keep them from having possession in the Scotland 22 for enough of the game to stay in control.  This was a continuation of the effective, tailored approach to games that we saw in the successful WXV2 campaign.

Familiar faces impress

Three experienced 50-cap Borderers really came to the fore in this game and showed how important they still are to this team.

Lana Skeldon was a deserved player of the match, not only for her solid line out throwing and well-taken (and well-celebrated) try, but for an all-round performance that also included three crucial turnovers and 17 carries (second most for Scotland).

Top of the carry list was Lisa Thomson with 20, with some real tackle busters seeing her beat four defenders and make 61 carry metres.  Thomson also impressed with some of her in-play kicking. There was the odd kick behind the defence first-half, on penalty advantage, that didn’t come to much, but she was always alert to where the space was, inches from a second half 50:22 and shortly after this, her identification and execution second half led directly to Emma Orr’s try.  And she contributed in defence, Scotland’s 4th highest tackler with 11, and no tackles missed.

Third in this trio was Chloe Rollie, who before the last-minute red card, seemed back somewhere close to her best after her injury. Her 13 carries included a scintillating late line break, five defenders beaten and 69 metres made; most importantly she jinked round the Italian defence to secure Scotland’s third and ultimately match-winning try.  

Still room to grow

For all that it was an important and hard-fought victory, there was still a recognition from the Scotland camp that this wasn’t as good a performance as they would have liked.

Although that will be a frustration, it remains somewhat positive that Scotland are managing to win even below their best and that there is such clear and fixable room for improvement. Set piece was getting closer to where they will want it to be – the scrum was excellent and the line out much improved.

But they will know that line out is an area they can get even more accurate, and as it is often a platform for their attack, know that when it does, they can score even more points.

They will also want to be more clinical in the opposition 22. Much of what stopped them was excellent Italian defence, led by the brilliant Sara Tounesi, but at their most fluent, Scotland will know they should score more tries, and with that much possession and territory, they probably should have got the bonus point try.

We are less than 18 months out from the World Cup and it feels like Scotland are in a good place – not the finished article but clearly progressing, able to match up against most teams and with time to work on bedding in what looks like a promising attacking style.

Speaking of World Cups, with at least 5th place secured, Scotland have qualified for at least WXV2, which in turn will guarantee a place at the 2025 Rugby World Cup. So on that front it has been already been a successful campaign, with two away wins for the first time since the 2006 Six Nations, when Spain rather than Italy were one of the teams.

They have a chance if they play their best against an improving Ireland team, to make it their best in nearly 20 years.

The post 2024 Women’s Six Nations – Italy 10 – 17 Scotland – Talking points appeared first on Scottish Rugby Blog.

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