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Kinghorn earns a hat-trick but flat Scotland make heavy weather of a winning finale


THE perfect finale for Scotland and hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn in particular shouldn’t hide the deficiencies in a poor and very flat final Six Nations performance.

The Scots may have secured a bonus-point win but the 12-point difference between them and Italy flattered the home side. Up 19-6 five minutes into the second half and cruising, they collapsed to the extent they ran the risk of throwing the game away.

To be fair to Scotland, they showed real strength of character by not kicking the ball out and settling on a five-point victory when they were under pressure at a scrum under their own posts with the clock in the red.

They did have a penalty advantage but it still took guts to chase a bonus-point try from there and they deserve praise for the move from deep that ended with Kinghorn going over for his third try of the match. It was his second Six Nations hat-trick against Italy in four years with the earlier one coming in the 33-20 win at BT Murrayfield in 2019.

Back then, Scotland won easily. This time round, they made heavy weather of overcoming a poor Italian side that only came to life late on.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend clearly thought the game was in the bag early on as he made a load of second-half changes but bringing on the likes of Ben Healy for his first cap didn’t help his team gain new momentum.

That energy came from Italy, who stormed back into the match with a try from Tommaso Allan and a penalty from Paolo Garbisi cutting the deficit to just five points with 13 minutes left.

Errors started creeping into Scotland’s play late on and they looked nervous as the Italians took the initiative.

They laid siege to the opposition line with only a knock-on from replacement Giovanni Pettinelli in the last minute gifting possession back to the Scots, who ran the ball from their scrum all the way to the other end for Kinghorn’s try.

There were only a few bright spots in the Scotland performance with Jack Dempsey deservedly being named man of the match. He justified Townsend’s decision to bring him into the back row starting line-up in place of Matt Fagerson with some big carries when it mattered.

Full-back Ollie Smith did well in place of the injured Stuart Hogg, with scrum-half Ben White keeping quick ball coming until he was replaced by Ali Price.

Kinghorn may have got a hat-trick of tries but, in the absence of the injured Finn Russell, he didn’t control the game well. His finishing cannot be questioned but his game management and goal-kicking can.

His first contribution was to put a massive clearance kick deep into the Italian half. The visitors brought the ball back and when Duhan van der Merwe was penalised for not releasing, they won a penalty that Allan pushed wide.

Scotland conceded three penalties in the first six minutes with Allan taking advantage of the final one to put his side ahead.

The home side got their first try with one of the best finishes of the Six Nations from Van der Merwe.

A great pick-up and break from Huw Jones found the winger on the touchline. Faced with Garbisi, who pushed him into touch, he managed to keep his feet in the air before touching down. Italy got back into the match when Allan made it two out of three with his penalty attempts after Dempsey was penalised for not releasing.

When Italy were caught offside, Kinghorn put the ball into the corner but, after eight attacking phases, Pierre Schoeman dropped the ball near the opposition line.

Then George Turner failed to find Jamie Ritchie in the lineout which gifted possession back to the Italians.

After persistent Italian offences at the scrum, tighthead prop Marco Riccioni was shown a yellow card. From the next play, Scotland won the scrum. White broke off the back to feed Kinghorn, who did well to break through two tackles to touch down. The fly-half got up to put over the conversion.

Scotland made the perfect start to the second half with backs and forwards combining to clock up 11 attacking phases. The try was always coming with the Italian defence stretched, which allowed Kinghorn some space.

He showed great strength to break through two tackles to score before converting his own try.

With a 14-point lead, Scotland started to ring the changes from the bench with a first appearance at these Six Nations for Ewan Ashman, who came on at hooker for Turner.

Although 14 points behind, the visitors kept plugging away and managed to get some decent ball but individual errors — especially at the lineout and scrum — gifted the ball back to Scotland.

Around the hour mark, there was a lethargy in the play of the home

side that needed addressing. With that in mind, Townsend made three changes with the most notable being scrum-half Price, who came on for White. It didn’t have much effect with Italy getting the next score.

Garbisi put in a perfect grubber kick up the line for Allan to run on to and touch down. Garbisi cut the deficit further with a penalty after Dempsey was caught offside. With 13 minutes remaining, former Ireland Under-20 international Healy came on for Ollie Smith and took over the ten jersey from Kinghorn, who moved to the wing.

Cam Redpath came on for his first Six Nations appearance of the season in place of Sione Tuipulotu in the centre. It was Italy that finished the strongest, camping on the Scotland line but failing to find a way through. They put together lots of attacking phases but the home defence held firm.

From a scrum under their own posts, Price broke away and found Van der Merwe, who set off up the line. He played the ball inside to Kinghorn, who went over for his third try that he converted himself.

It was a great ending to a poor Scotland performance.

Six Nations




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