Cotter message falling on deaf ears

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was left frustrated after an error-strewn defeat by Italy
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was left frustrated after an error-strewn defeat by Italy

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter concedes his "message" is not getting through to his players after watching them crash to their third RBS 6 Nations defeat on the spin.

The Dark Blues' faces were left matching their crimson red change strip as they threw away victory against Italy with a late collapse - leaving them near certainties to take home the Wooden Spoon.

Having struggled to deal with the Azzurri's driving mauls and referee George Clancy's pedantic meddling at the scrum, the Scots found themselves a man light as debutant lock Ben Toolis was sin-binned two minutes from time.

And the visitors to Murrayfield clinched a 22-19 victory when Clancy's patience finally ran out as he awarded a penalty try after Scotland resorted to another infringement just inches from their own goal-line in a desperate bid to halt Italy's last-gasp surge.

It was the 14th foul committed by Cotter's men and came after penalty-littered defeats to France and Wales.

The Kiwi had warned Scotland to be on their best behaviour but after falling to the Italians for the seventh time in 15 years, he said: "I'm obviously not getting the message across.

"That's one of those things that has been spoken about and it needs to be taken on board.

"I still think there is a lot of growth in this side. Things have gone forward.

"We just need to address a couple of simple things which will help us change and control outcomes better."

But Cotter also admitted he will have to take his share of the blame.

Asked if he regretted replacing skipper Greig Laidlaw with five minutes to go just as the Italians were turning the screw, he said: "Not just that. I'm responsible for the defeat so I will be having a good look at myself and how we can move forward."

Yet Scotland looked to be very much in control of their own destiny when they raced 10-0 ahead after just seven minutes.

Mark Bennett followed skipper Laidlaw's early penalty with the easiest try of his life as he intercepted Kelly Haimona's pass inside before darting home to score under the posts, leaving Laidlaw with a simple conversion.

But the Italians were handed an immediate lifeline as Joshua Furno barged over from a line-out drive.

Laidlaw and Haimona exchanged penalties before another kick from the Scotland captain put them ahead by eight.

But Italy's farcical second touchdown - scored when the ball dropped into Giovanbattista Venditti's thankful grasp two yards out after Haimona's penalty had hit a post - allowed them to close in on their hosts.

While the second half ground to a snail's pace while Clancy fixated on both packs' lack of technique at the scrum, Scotland failed to build on their lead.

They managed just one more Laidlaw penalty and were made to suffer as Italy built up a head of steam before forcing the late, decisive foul which sealed their second victory in Edinburgh in the last eight years.

Scotland now face the ignominy of taking home their fourth Wooden Spoon since 2004.

"The result was disappointing because we led for the whole game," Cotter added. "We didn't control it as well as we might have in the last 20 minutes.

"Through that lack of composure and control we got ourselves in difficulty.

"We have two more games against England away and Ireland at home and if we look at this closely there are things we need to do to give us more composure and allow us to close out games like this."

If Scotland are to avoid finishing dead last, they will have to sack London for the first time since 1983.

But flanker Blair Cowan believes the Scots can use the pain they are feeling now to hit back against England at Twickenham.

He said: "We can't allow this disappointment to roll on. It's key we react positively. We have to soak up how gutted we all are and harness that to turn this around.

"I was standing in the shower with my head down when Ryan Grant turned to me and said 'The beauty of it is that we have England in two weeks - we can swing this all around'.

"It's the perfect game to bounce back.

"We know how good we are and we have shown it in games against top sides. But we are definitely not that Wooden Spoon side we are perceived to be.

"No-one wants a Wooden Spoon on their CV. We have two games to turn it around and that has to be the motivation."