Scotland 18 Italy 16: Paterson's kicks too strong for Troncon
It was some time after midnight when a bald figure in an Italian team jacket emerged from the crowd lingering outside the St-Etienne football ground and started chasing after the coach that was pulling out of the main entrance – the coach that was carrying the Scotland players, it transpired. Poor Alessandro Troncon could be excused for thinking he had missed the bus.
When he inspired Italy to their first Six Nations Championship win on the road, in Edinburgh back in February, the veteran scrum-half donned a pirate's hat at the final whistle and danced around Murrayfield like a follically challenged Jack Sparrow. In the early hours of yesterday, after completing his 101st and final international game, and scoring the only try of the contest, he bore the pained expression of someone who had just been run through by Blackbeard's cutlass – which, in rugby terms, he and his team-mates assuredly had been.
There is no weapon more lethal in international rugby than the right boot of Chris Paterson. Six times out of six in a perilously tight, prosaically grim and rain-drenched Pool C second-place decider, it sent penalty-kicks straight between the Italian posts. In the wet or in the dry, from up close or from the touchline, with the World Cup ball or with any other: it makes little difference to Scotland's quiet, unassuming assassin.
Paterson's place-kicking record for the tournament is 15 out of 15. In the last two Six Nations it was 17 out of 19 and 22 out of 25. That adds up to 54 out of 59 in competition play since the start of 2006.
If he had a red rose-emblazoned No 10 jersey on his back (a thought guaranteed to make any son of the Borders lose all composure), or indeed an All Black equivalent, the Galashiels man would be lauded to the skies as a rugby phenomenon. As it is, despite having hauled his national team of considerably limited resources through to a quarter-final for the second World Cup in succession (it was his conversion of Tom Smith's late try that made the two-point difference against Fiji back in 2003), Paterson, the epitome of self-effacement, is quite happy to get on with his business with the minimum of fuss.
While Frank Hadden, Scotland's head coach, ventured that the goal-kicking of his left wing had been "sensational", the new Gloucester recruit simply shrugged his shoulders, shuffled his feet and diverted his gaze to the floor in embarrassment. "Ach, it's just a duty that I have to get on and do," he said.
"I know there'll be times when I miss kicks. There'll be times when I don't kick well. Hopefully, I can keep those to a minimum. But if your team-mates ask you to do something, you do it as best you can. If the kicks go over, that's great. You move forward."
Which Scotland do, to a quarter-final at the Stade de France next Sunday. Argentina, having beaten the hosts there in the opening game, will start as favourites, though the Pumas will rightly be wary of conceding any penalties remotely within range of Paterson, who attributes his dead-eyed precision to the influence of Mick Byrne, the one-time Aussie Rules star who was employed as Scotland's kicking coach from 2002 to 2005 and who now works with Dan Carter and the All Blacks.
In the driving rain on Saturday, Scotland showed little sign of troubling the scoreboard by other means. They showed composure, though, after Troncon plundered his 13th-minute try – when Rory Lamont failed to hold on to a garryowen by Ramiro Pez – and after the younger Lamont was withdrawn in the 34th minute, suffering from blurred vision. He was detained in hospital overnight but cleared to rejoin the squad yesterday. The Scots were also fortunate that David Bortolussi's long-range penalty went just wide with three minutes left.
"Today was dominated by kicking and territory, which was the absolutely correct thing to do in the conditions," Jason White, the Scotland captain, said. "You play what's in front of you. I think we realise we need to play better next week to win, but we've definitely got a chance."
Scotland: R Lamont (Sale); S Lamont (Northampton), S Webster (Edinburgh), R Dewey (Ulster), C Paterson (Gloucester); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Edinburgh), R Ford (Glasgow), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), J Hamilton (Leicester), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg (Edinburgh), S Taylor (Stade Français). Replacements: H Southwell (Edinburgh) for R Lamont, 24; A Henderson (Glasgow) for Dewey, 60; C Smith (Edinbugh) for Kerr, 65; K Brown (Glasgow) for Hogg, 70; S MacLeod (Llanelli) for Hamilton, 72; C Cusiter (Perpignan) for Blair, 72.
Italy: D Bortolussi (Auch); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), A Masi (Biarritz); R Pez (Bayonne), A Troncon (Clermont Auvergne, capt); S Perugini (Toulouse), C Festuccia (Parma), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), C Del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français). Replacements: A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila) for Perugini, 49; F Ongaro (Saracens) for Festuccia, 54; Perugini for Castrogiovanni, 74; E Galon (Parma) for Masi, 79.
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).