This Six Nations will go down as another missed opportunity for Scotland. The latest in a long line of tournaments where pre-tournament expectations were dashed on the rocks of reality. A significant portion of the blame will fall at the feet of Scottish ill discipline. With the exception of the French match, they have conceded ten or more penalties every single game. Worse still, they have a habit of stacking penalties. It was 14 in a row without reprieve against Wales in the first round and eight in a row against Italy as the match slipped from Scottish control.

Let’s start by saying these strings of penalties aren’t a World Rugby conspiracy to punish Scotland for having the temerity to complain about the non-try against France. No, this is an issue of their own making. With that in mind, let’s look at those eight penalties against Italy and work out what went wrong.

41.27: Pierre Schoeman It starts with a penalty which isn’t immediately spotted. Scotland score under the posts with Ali Price but it’s brought back for a fairly obvious block by Schoeman off the ball. He runs a hard line but then initiates contact with Ross Vintcent. Vintcent makes sure it’s spotted but field position is flipped and 7pts which almost certainly would’ve sealed things by giving Scotland a 13pt lead, are chalked off.

45.06: Kyle Steyn Italy have now scored a try to make it 21-22. From the restart Steyn competes for the ball but Italy have Federico Ruzza. Steyn doesn’t get close enough to really challenge for the ball and ends up just barrelling into the Italian lock in the air. Italy get the penalty and with it a very easy chance to clear their lines when they should have been under pressure from the kick-off.

47.27: Scott Cummings From an Italian lineout, Cummings is lifted into the Italian lifting pod and then makes the penalty more obvious by briefly wrapping his arm around Ruzza’s head. Ruzza is toppled and falls after collecting the ball. This occurs just inside Scotland’s half where the away side would have expected they could’ve repelled the Italian attack and received the ball back. Instead, Italy get to kick to touch and have a lineout around 30m from the Scottish line.

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51.36: Pierre Schoeman 60m from their line and the Scottish front row immediately hit the ground on the engage at the scrum. Schoeman is deemed responsible but it looks like either prop could’ve been called for it. Paolo Garbisi hits a nice kick to touch and Italy have a lineout on the Scottish 22. This is the first of the four penalties so far that has come under any pressure from Italy.

56.42: Blair Kinghorn On the tenth phase of defence barely metres from their own line, Kinghorn is forced into a defensive penalty. Ignacio Brex makes a powerful carry and is stopped by the combination of Steyn, Kinghorn, and Cameron Redpath. Kinghorn gets to his feet but simply flops on the ball by coming in from the side. The next phase Stephen Varney scores a scooted try which probably saves Kinghorn from ten minutes in the bin.

65.50: Alec Hepburn Another scrum penalty. Italy get the shove on and Scotland’s scrum splinters in every direction. Hepburn folds in under pressure but really there was an entire buffet of possible offences to pick from. Once more though, Italy get to clear the ball under no pressure from within their own half.

68.51: Finn Russell Scotland cough up possession inside the Italian half and Italy dive on it. There’s nothing on so Varney is keen to hoof the ball down the pitch as soon as he possibly can. Russell is stood in an offside position, charges the kick too soon, drops back but again is never onside and then charges again. Varney kicks it straight out, but it’s rightly brought back for the penalty. Italy once again exit their own half and give themselves an attacking lineout.

71.13: Sam Skinner Scotland are looking to exit via a box kick and have a caterpillar in place to protect Ali Price. Skinner is in the caterpillar but begins advancing as soon as the ball is kicked and is always in an offside position. Referee Angus Gardner lets him know but by then he’s impacting play and it’s a penalty. Garbisi sticks this one through to give Italy a 31-22 lead. That 30 minute period between the first penalty and last in this stacked penalty period has seen Italy score 15 unanswered points.

What can we learn from this? I think there are two key things. One, a lot of these penalties are given away by Scotland under absolutely no pressure. Russell, Skinner, and Steyn all make unforced errors which invite pressure on the side. Both Russell and Skinner have to know that referees are focused on box kick chargedowns and offside infront of the kicker. In fact, Wales were penalised four times for being ahead of the kicker when they faced Scotland. Secondly, these are penalties that really change field position. The Kinghorn penalty was pretty smart in a last ditch effort to prevent a try. The rest let Italy easily escape the situation Scotland have put them in.

Scotland will be doing this same analysis and the focus against Ireland has to be to cut out the silly and pointless penalties. Scrum penalties will happen, penalties under pressure in defence will happen, but you hurt yourself by giving away the other penalties Scotland have. In addition, they have to stop stacking penalties. The 14 they gave away against Wales almost cost them that lead and the eight in a row against Italy did.