Six Nations: Sergio Parisse leads the way as Scotland self-destruct

Italy outscored Scotland three tries to one at Murrayfield
Italy outscored Scotland three tries to one at Murrayfield

The temptation was to observe the train-wreck that was the Scotland team - the despair, the shock, the anger at the end of a second-rate Test match.

But rather than dwell on Scottish misery, the eye was drawn to Italian jubilation and to Sergio Parisse - their totem and the embodiment of the game's warrior spirit - delighting in a first-class moment in the history of Italian rugby.

This 22-19 success at Murrayfield was Parisse's 111th cap for Italy and only his 31st victory.

He's been playing in this championship for 13 years and you don't need all of the fingers on your hands to count the number of times he has known success. The numbers are outrageously lopsided for such a colossal player.

So many things went into the winning of this match, and Italy's killer combination of fire and ice, when it was most needed, was part of it. Parisse was its embodiment.

In those dying minutes, while Scotland played like drowning men, Parisse was a leader, the kind of leader that Scotland so desperately lacked.

He directed his team forward, he carried them with him. Parisse has had many more spectacular performances in his wonderful career but as a focal point when the game was in the balance, he could not have stood out more had he a flashing beacon attached to his head.

Italy deserved this. Any team that goes to an opponent's ground and out-scores them by three tries to one has earned their victory.

In truth, they had obliging hosts. The pockets of good feeling in Scottish rugby were dynamited and the sense that the national team, under Vern Cotter, was moving beyond the kind of ruinous losses that have dogged them for 16 years has now been stopped dead in its tracks.

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Scotland undone by last-gasp Italy

This performance was by turns naive and incompetent. The last 10 minutes were extraordinary to behold. Scotland had managed to overcome their own shortcomings and take a 19-15 lead into the closing stages. They held an advantage despite persisting with a game plan that allowed Italy construct their driven line-out mauls, one of which brought them their first try.

Nobody in a Scottish jersey sought to disrupt the Italian line-out at source, before it had done its damage. It was a piece of tactical thinking straight out of the King Canute playbook.

But they survived all of that. When Greig Laidlaw put over a penalty after a sustained bout of Scottish pressure, the gap had widened to four points and with it came an optimism inside Murrayfield. There cannot have been much admiration for the way Scotland were playing, but there was hope that it wasn't going to end in defeat.

Then the clock turned to 70 minutes and the wheels came off, one at a time. Scotland lost a line-out, then conceded a penalty at a scrum, then gave away another penalty at yet another rumbling maul - all in the space of three minutes.

Error begat error. Italy's scrum nudged forward into the heart of Scotland's 22, then another penalty, then another scrum, then another nudge, then another penalty. Referee George Clancy warned Scotland that they were running out of chances. And that precise moment was a window to the home team's problems.

Laidlaw had left the action by then. Ross Ford, too. When Clancy decided to admonish the Scots he asked who their captain was. There was no reply from the Scottish players. 'Who's your captain?' he asked again. These were interminable seconds.

If Clancy ever got an answer then it wasn't an emphatic one. It was impossible to see who was calling the shots in the team by then.

Scotland led against Italy until the final minute
Scotland led against Italy at Murrayfield until the final minute

Scotland lifted the siege and then invited the siege upon themselves again when Peter Horne, who had played admirably up until then, made an horrendous blunder with a kick that had to find touch - simply had to - but didn't.

Italy thundered downfield, the vulnerability of the Scots all too visible to them. In attempting to hold back the tide, Ben Toolis, on debut, was sin-binned. Hamish Watson, also making his debut, was sin-binned at the game's last act.

Two new caps and a pair of yellow cards. It's symptomatic of the disciplinary weaknesses in this team. That's four yellow cards and 38 penalties in three games. It's hard enough trying to win these matches without stymieing yourself into the bargain.

There was a Kafkaesque quality to it all - and, for Scotland, a Shakespearean finale. From the 70th minute you could count at least seven key mistakes that brought us to the end-game. The maul, the penalty try, the twin emotions of delirium and dejection.

This was calamitous stuff and a reminder, in case it was needed, that Scotland, despite the impression of improvement, have a mightily long road ahead of them. The team is young and has promise but it's under-powered up front, it lacks leaders and discipline and against Italy it had a self-destructive naivety.

In the aftermath, the Italians sat and talked to their media for an age, Parisse explaining his pride and relief at having avenged last year's, Duncan Weir-inspired win in Rome. Cotter had exited by then, last seen heading wearily for the drawing board.

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