Italy end wait with memorable victory in Rome

Italy celebrations
Good things are supposed to come to those who wait and Italian rugby has certainly done plenty of waiting.

Eleven years had passed since the Azzurri last celebrated victory in Rome, but their 31-29 win over Scotland to end that run was more than just a good thing.

This was Italian rugby at its best; physical and unforgiving in defence, inventive and elusive in attack and the performance had the victory it deserved.

Perhaps the Stadio Olimpico had a sense of what was to come, the sound of the sold-out crowd rippled around the old amphitheatre as much in expectation as hope ahead of kick-off following that dramatic draw with France a fortnight ago.

That ripple soon became a roar as the crowd soon realised what was upon them, as Gonzalo Quesada’s side turned a frenetic first-half performance into an assured second through a debut try from Louis Lynagh and another from Stephen Varney to put Italy on the brink of victory.

That was off the back of a breathless opening 40 minutes that saw the hosts stay in touch thanks to a try from Juan Ignacio Brex, latching onto a clever kick from Martin Page-Relo, in a first half that the visitors had the better of with three tries of their own.

But while previous Italy sides might have fallen away after the break, especially after Scotland looked to have scored their fourth but for obstruction from Pierre Schoeman, this iteration fought back to leave themselves 31-22 ahead with just minutes on the clock.

It could never be that simple though, Sam Skinner setting up a tense finish with a try three minutes from time but if there were any nerves, they were confined to the stands, as those in blue repelled phase after phase of Scottish attack to see out a long overdue victory in the capital.

“It's a good day for this team and it was a tough game,” said Quesada. “I think we managed to become good in the second half. It's a special day though, it's a step on the growth of the team. I'm happy for them to experience a win.

"It's something we can find in every game. We have been consistent in defence - even in Ireland 36-0 we kept on defending and putting their bodies on the lines. It's an amazing feeling for a coach.

"11 years without a win here and 13 against Scotland. I want to talk about the staff and the whole team not just me. We have created a special group who have worked tirelessly."

Momentum is a powerful thing in sport, something Italy proved in Rome as they burst into short spells when they were seemingly irrepressible, and they will hope to harness all its might heading to Cardiff next weekend, where they will have eyes on back-to-back victories.

The Welsh capital of course brings happy memories for this recent Italian generation, their dramatic 22-21 victory two years ago was meant to be the start of something as we became fully acquainted with the likes of Ange Capuozzo, but following it up has been tough. They will be determined to avoid such pitfalls next week.

"We still have to improve a lot, but to bring back a win in Rome is unbelievable,” added captain Michele Lamaro. “The stadium was full and that was one of our objectives in the past few months.

"It means a lot as it is a win that come from one game that we played well.

"It has been two to three years working so hard, I think this is the most important thing.

"The last game we won against Wales in Cardiff we were underdogs and we didn't play that well but now we have improved from the first game till now.

"We are hungry, we want to bring this team to the next level - we fully believe in what we do."

For Scotland, it is a case of more questions than answers.

Opening day victory over Wales and a memorable win over England meant a late loss to France could be put to bed, but a second defeat of the campaign leaves Gregor Townsend’s side at a crossroads.

Victory in Rome was meant to send Scotland to Dublin with at least a chance of claiming a first Championship since 1999 but those hopes are now dashed and the drawing board is once again being hauled out of storage.

"Italy played better in the second half and got more points than us so of course they deserved it,” said Townsend.

"I thought we came out in the second half and got the contact area sorted and created a score but it was disallowed and after that we were ill-disciplined. After that try we gave away about six penalties in a row which let them back in the game.