THIS heavy defeat in sunny Parma has left Bryan Easson’s Scotland’s side with a mountain to climb in their quest to reach a first World Cup since 2010. They must now defeat Spain this coming Sunday and Ireland the following Saturday to keep alive their dream of playing in New Zealand next October. It is achievable but will require a far more accurate and streetwise performance than they could muster here.
Unforced errors and poor decision-making cost the Scots dearly. They seemed to be stunned by the intensity their opponents brought to the match, and only really managed to get a foothold in the contest during the final quarter, by which time Italy had scored six unanswered tries and taken their foot off the gas.
Rhona Lloyd claimed a well-taken consolation score with 10 minutes to go, with replacement stand-off Sarah Law slotting a brilliant touchline conversion, but head coach Easson was in no mood to use that bright ending as camouflage for what had gone before.
“We’ve got another two games that will allow us to progress, but we have to learn from what’s happened today and I think the key thing was simple errors and then compounding the errors,” he said. “It wasn’t just a mistake and we got better, it was one mistake, then two, then three and by that time we’re chasing, and it is very, very difficult in this heat to chase like that.
“We’ll go and learn from that, but it was the error count, particularly in the first half, that was disappointing.”
The Scots conceded a penalty straight from kick-off, which gifted the powerful Italian pack an opportunity to build up a head of steam, and they took full advantage with openside flanker Giada Franco bulldozing over for her team’s first try of the afternoon with less than two minutes played. Easson felt that set the tone for the match. “If you’re building up to something and you’re down points early then your mindset changes,” he reasoned.
Helen Nelson did pull it back to a four-point game with a ruck penalty on six minutes, but then two overthrown Scottish line-outs in quick succession resulted in two Italian tries for Maria Magatti and Sara Barattin to make it 19-3 with 24 minutes played.
Nelson kicked another penalty, but that was a mere road-bump for the rampant Azzurri, who scored again just before when Ilaria Arrighetti blasted Megan Gaffney and Chloe Rollie out of the way during a 25-yard rampage to the try-line.
The Scots started the second half in fairly positive style, winning a succession of ruck penalties to get within range for another shot at goal for Nelson, but this time her effort sailed to the wrong side of the posts, meaning the gap stayed at 20 points.
Despite dominating territory for the next 10 minutes, Easson’s side struggled to get inside the strike-zone.
Italy, meanwhile, were ruthless when they swooped on a Scottish mistake in the middle of the park and streaked home from 50-yards, with Magatti and Barattin doing the initial damage, and Michela Sillari finishing off.
It looked like the floodgates had opened when Veronica Madia prodded an inch-perfect kick over the top for Manuela Furlan to score try number six, making it 38-6 with 20 minutes still to go, however a drinks’ break gave the Scots a chance to refresh and regroup.
With replacement Italian flanker Francesca Sgorbini being sent to the sinbin for a deliberate knock-on a few minutes later, the away side finally began to assert themselves. Sarah Bonar went close, but was stripped as she reached for the line, then a long, looping pass from Lisa Thomson gave Lloyd the sliver of space she needed on the right to get that consolation try.
It took some of the sting out of the defeat, but there was no escaping the fact that the Scots had been a distant second when it really mattered during this contest.
“I think the errors were on us,” said beaten captain Rachel Malcolm. “We’re not going to make any excuses about that. It was things that we did wrong rather than the pressure we were put under.
“Italy played very well, and we knew they could do well off our errors, we’ve seen that in the past. We gave them the platform to play off.
“I think we showed in parts what we can do, particularly in the second half when he had some set-piece and maul dominance, but there are things we’ll definitely need to look at going into the Spain game. We need to regroup and come back stronger.”
“We came here knowing we had three games and every game for us is a cup final. We’ll review this match so that we get better, and then we’ll bin it so that we can focus on our next cup final.
“This group has come up against results like this before and we’ve come back stronger, and we’ll do the same again now.”