Hidalgo-Clyne: We must learn how to finish job

Matt Scott, centre, feels the pain of defeat after Scotland snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Below, Scotland's Sam Hidalgo-Clyne gets up close and personal with Italy's Edoardo Gori
Matt Scott, centre, feels the pain of defeat after Scotland snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Below, Scotland's Sam Hidalgo-Clyne gets up close and personal with Italy's Edoardo Gori
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Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has appealed for the Scotland rugby team not to be judged on performances in a 23-19 defeat by Italy at BT Murrayfield that leaves them pointless and adrift at the bottom of the RBS Six Nations Championship.

Edinburgh’s 22-year-old scrum-half has been one of the Scottish finds of the tournament albeit on limited opportunities from off the bench.

But all that counted for nothing with him as he took stock of another game that got away and the third single-score defeat in as many matches.

“We are definitely a better side than we were against Italy as we showed in the first two games of this tournament,” said Hidalgo-Clyne who was able to pinpoint aspects which will be given most attention before the next assignment, away to England on Saturday week.

“We need to get that mentality where we see out games. We let them in with silly errors by forcing things,” he said.

It was then that Hidalgo-Clyne, who had come on with six minutes remaining to try and close out the victory, focused on a fundamental flaw and if recognising a collective problem is the first step to atonement then credit him for fronting up.

“Our kicking game was not good at all. Not just our territory gains but competitive kicking.

“Our kicks that we were trying to compete for were far too long. We didn’t actually get in the air for any of the kicks.

“Obviously you have to be careful because they (the authorities) are making a big thing of challenging for high kicks. But we were not punting into the corners with territory kicks and making them play from there.”

The situation reached a nadir with a few minutes remaining when a scrum penalty conceded by Italy on the home line looked to have handed hard pressed Scotland a ‘get out of jail’ card.

But stand-off Peter Horne missed touch allowing Italy to counter and in the final play they were celebrating going ahead for the first time with a penalty try for Scotland collapsing a maul in a madcap moment that led to Hamish Watson following his fellow Edinburgh forward debutant, Ben Toolis, to the sin-bin.

“With a few minutes to go it was great to get a penalty on our line after defending well especially as Italy had got a couple of penalties from our scrum early on. It showed we had turned things around in that area which was very good.

“As a whole we should not have been in that position so it was not in Peter’s hands at all.

“We are a tight group who win and lose together and the team know they didn’t put things right that occurred previously (against Wales).

“So, the resolve will increase again when we return to camp to prepare for the visit to England in a fortnight and try to turn things around.

“We now need to get confidence to get over the line where winning is concerned and it is very frustrating.

“I’ll keep trying to offer as much as I can when I get on while I realise it is always hard with Greig (Laidlaw) in front of me. I’m not going to get much game time but I feel I am learning.”

Feelings of a Groundhog Day at Murrayfield were enhanced by the fact this was Scotland’s fifth home Championship defeat in a row, something that hasn’t happened since 1970 and if Scotland had been trying to lure rivals England into a false sense of security following a bright entrance which quickly faded they couldn’t have done a better job.

Rarely has there been a falser dawn and arguably the only positive, looking ahead, is that Scotland have absolutely nothing to lose at Twickenham in a fixture they haven’t won since 1983 with any remote semblance of expectation now gone completely perhaps meaning the team can relax and play without inhibition which is always an awkward situation for opponents to be confronted with.

This, though, was an Italy team who had previously only ever won a single away match since entering the Six Nations in 2000 – at Murrayfield in 2007 – and their recent record showed just a couple of victories against Samoa and Fiji in 19 outings during which they succumbed to Japan.

While feeble kicking from hand was the biggest criticism – why was there not greater emphasis on turning rivals who looked weary from early in the second half? – the Scotland set piece fluctuated between mediocre and woeful and change is inevitable.

So, where to start?

Finn Russell will return after a suspension that was totally unwarranted and the discredited coaching regime should now eat humble pie and issue calls to jettisoned Saracens flanker Kelly Brown on grounds of experience alone and perhaps to resume captaincy and ease pressure on Greig Laidlaw whose responsibility for goal-kicking and feeding the back-line in addition to holding a referee to account on behalf of his team seemed overwhelming at times. Similarly, John Barclay has been dumped in a decision shrouded in mystery and with another couple of games under his belt in an injury disrupted season David Denton looks a stick-on for a place in the squad.

Here Johnnie Beattie has given sterling service at No.8 but he could pay for the elementary error of allowing a ball to bounce between himself and Stuart Hogg which almost yielded a fourth try to Italy.

In a similar vein Scotland dodged a bullet when Tommy Allan missed a kick from in front of the posts from one of the 38 penalties conceded by Scotland in this Championship and contributing to four yellow cards.

Yet it didn’t just look promising, it looked like a potential rout when Greig Laidlaw kicked the first of his four penalties and converted an intercept try from Mark Bennett for 10-0.

What hadn’t been expected was for Scotland to fail to disrupt a line-out allowing the Italians to maul over for a try by Josh Furno and when a rebound came back into play Giovanbattista Venditti reacted first for a converted try.

The momentum was beginning to shift and at times you had to remind yourself down the home straight Scotland were still 19-15 ahead.

That lasted until the final minute when the loose clearance error was compounded by collapsing a maul to give Italy a match winning penalty try against hosts looking utterly leaderless once Laidlaw and Ross Ford had been withdrawn.

Asked about indiscipline coach Vern Cotter said: “I’m obviously not getting the message across. I’m responsible for the defeat so I’ll be having a good look at myself and how we can move forward.”

The trouble for Cotter, whose honeymoon period is long over, is that questions will be asked about what other messages are not getting across besides discipline with a side astonishingly reluctant to move possession wide amongst other manifold failings.