Hogmanay Italian job brings two wins, but only just

Gregor Townsend hailed Glasgow's victory in Treviso as "a courageous away win".
Gregor Townsend hailed Glasgow's victory in Treviso as "a courageous away win".

As Italian jobs go, it was an effective rather than efficient or clinical one, but at least both Scottish pro teams got back for the Bells at New Year with valuable points in their pockets.

After unforgivably allowing two comfortable leads to slip, Rory Clegg’s late try saved Glasgow and they came away with a maximum five points from Treviso.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, showed they at least can learn from their mistakes and snatched their first away win of the season and first at Zebre since 2013 in more comfortable fashion that the 24-19 final scoreline suggests.

The results moved Glasgow into a play-off spot and Edinburgh up to the giddy heights of ninth. However the decision to move the 1872 Cup second leg to May and play the Italian clubs away at New Year – the SRU’s preference or the league’s, depending on who you believe – was a narrow escape, and an expensive one.

Hiring charter flights to take the teams there on Friday and get them back the same day of the games at this time of year might be the equivalent of a year’s contract for a top Scotland player. If the SRU agitated for a split in the 1872 doubleheader, it ended up a financial own goal.

Glasgow’s win in Treviso might be the more significant in the long-term, although again it showed that the Warriors are less of a team when they don’t have all their Scotland stars at their disposal.

The experiment of Stuart Hogg at 10 was by no means a failure as he got man of the match from the Italian TV broadcaster, scored an opportunist try and landed all five kicks at goal.

However Glasgow played far too loose at times, not just when a dreadful wayward pass in their own 22 led to a gift try for their hosts just before half-time.

Had sometime Italy international Tomasso Allan – funny to remember some people were almost incandescent with fury when director of rugby Scott Johnson made no attempt to secure the dual-qualified stand-off for Scotland – not gifted a breakaway try to Hogg and missed two easy kicks the Warriors might have been struggling long before Dean Budd’s second try brought the scores level with five minutes left.

With a late replacement Italian referee penalising them off the park in the second half, the Warriors dug deep. They forced a fumble in midfield and the smart work of Sean Lamont and Tommy Seymour up the left touchline turned it into the matchwinner for replacement Clegg – with some irony, the specialist backup 10 having been overlooked for Hogg in the team selection as Finn Russell was rested.

“We had to dig deep and show character,” said Gregor Townsend. “The try the guys produced at the end made it a courageous away win in the end.

“We have a good record in Italy having not lost here in five or six years, and getting maximum points is really important if we are going to stay in the top four.”

The Warriors have made a habit of a New Year surge in the PRO12, but so far this term they haven’t won a game in the international windows and the forthcoming fixtures being played when the Six Nations starts will be crucial to their play-off hopes.

Edinburgh meanwhile have made a habit of slumping as the year turns, so the win in Italy, with no league game now until February 3, was absolutely essential.

The capital club’s record in Italy is not great – “Ross Ford told me that he’d never won here before” said Duncan Hodge – and this was precisely the controlled, mature performance they’d maybe been lacking since their acting head coach took charge.

Duncan Weir controlled territory and kicked four penalties, Ben Toolis controlled the lineout and while there wasn’t much in the way of attacking flair, Chris Dean had an opportunist try and Will Helu a well-worked one from man of the match Blair Kinghorn’s well placed kick behind the defence.

“We had a lot of possession without looking massively threatening,” conceded Hodge. “There is still a lot to work on, masses to work on, but a win is the most important thing.

“We are a young team and we saw that again today in spells. We would have liked another try to press for the bonus point and it wasn’t the most glamourous of games but we’re just happy to have got the win.”

Edinburgh will have five games in a row during the Six Nations, including matches against the current top three, but have a week off due to Munster’s re-arranged European Champions Cup game against Racing in Paris.