Comfortably beating inferior sides has hardly been a hallmark of Scottish rugby over the last few years so after the calamity at Twickenham last week the optimism generated among supporters by wins against Wales and Ireland was laced with trepidation ahead of kick off. The Murrayfield faithful’s fears proved groundless as Scotland rounded off their 2017 RBS Six Nations campaign with a workmanlike, bonus point victory against a dreadfully limited Italian side. The lasting memory of Scotland’s tournament may well be the Vern Cotter’s emotional farewell but he leaves the Scotland team in a far better place than he found it and Gregor Townsend has both the solid foundations and the sprinkling of stardust that could make the boys in blue genuine title contenders over the next few years.
1. Gordon Reid – 7
A relatively quiet game for the big man. This Italian pack up does not match up to the scrummaging prowess of some of their predecessors but Reid played his part in a scrum that was on top through most of the match.
2. Ross Ford – 6
Not sure whether the 107 cap hooker was brought in to steady the scrum or as a nudge to Fraser Brown that getting a yellow card in the 3rd minute of a crucial game might not be good for your international future. In fairness he probably did both. Had his usual overthrow / not straight in a promising situation
3. Zander Fagerson – 8
Won two scum penalties and was generally on top in the set piece throughout. However, around the park he was a monster ending as joint top tackler with 11 and added a great steal on the floor to snuff out an Italian attack deep in the 22. His carrying was also top notch, consistently getting over the gainline. Probably his best game for Scotland.
4. Grant Gilchrist– 6
With Gray Snr. missing in action it was Gilchrist who unexpectedly got the nod to stand in for the big man. The Edinburgh lock threw himself around with abandon both in defence and attack. He looked dead on his feet when replaced by Swinson.
5. Jonny Gray –6
Gray Jr seems to have faded as the tournament has gone on. He is still getting through a prodigious amount of work but not impacting on the game in the same way as the games against Wales and Ireland. Needs a big game against Saracens in a couple of weeks if wants to be with the big boys in NZ.
6. John Barclay – 7
Great personal effort from the Scotland Captain but Barclay has rediscovered his penchant for penalty or two and ended up taking a 10 minute referee mandated rest period early in the second half, leaving his team to heroically defend the line with 14 men. That they managed to hold out against huge pressure was partly due to individual bravery and team spirit but was helped greatly by Italian back play which would have embarrassed an u13 side.
7. Hamish Watson – 6
Busy enough round the park with 11 tackles and 10 carries. Was another back 5 forward who without doing anything spectacular ensured that Scotland were able to generate quick ball in the opposition 22 and that is all this talented set of back need to put points on the board.
8. Ryan Wilson – 5
For what seems like the umpteenth time Wilson played through an injury picked up early in the game. Not able to make a real impact on the game after that.
9. Ali Price – 7
Not much of a threat around the fringes but was able to maintain momentum in attack and provide fast ball moving forward that Finn and Friends thrive on.
10. Finn Russell – 8
After the “deer in the headlights” performance last week. Finn spent much of the first half doing his best impression of a “mature adult” guiding the home side around the field with great control. Made his try look easy (it wasn’t) and was able to open up his box of tricks in the second half to ensure the bonus pint was won.
11. Tim Visser – 6
Chased well, including for his try but never say the ball in any space. Should really have held on to the cross kick from Russell in the first half.
12. Alex Dunbar – 7
After the horror show against England Dunbar stood up well in defence, including a trademark rip out of the tackle, admittedly against a different class of opponent. Carried strongly too with four defenders beaten on the day.
13. Huw Jones – 6
Two clean line breaks in the 20 mins before his injury, I think he would have been on for a huge day if he had stayed on the park, looked very dangerous
14. Tommy Seymour – 5
The Nashville born flyer has had a quiet championship by his standard. Did nothing wrong but you will struggle to remember any contribution of note in this game
15. Stuart Hogg – 8.5
One Sunday Times journalist left Hogg out of his pretend Lions Squad in favour of Halfpenny and Kearney. Those are both fine players but Scotland scored a record 14 tries in this Championship and by my count Hogg either scored or had a decisive influence on 10 of the 14 tries. He is the most effective attacking player in Europe by a distance and any concerns about inconsistent defensive effort should watch Hogg prevent two certain tries when the match was still in the balance. Nailed on.
Matt Scott came on early for Jones and ran some effective lines and Swinson raised the tempo when he joined the fray as usual but most of the rest of the subs came on with the game already won.
By Stephen Smith