Italy and Spain got off to winning starts on the opening day of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma.
Maria Magatti scored two of the hosts’ six tries against Scotland as the Azzurre kicked off the tournament with a bonus-point 38-13 victory.
In the second match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi a supreme defensive effort and a late try from 19-year-old debutant Lea Ducher helped Spain clinch a nail-biting 8-7 win over Ireland.
"This is a historic day not just for the Spanish women's rugby. It is historic for the whole Spanish rugby community," Spain coach José Antonio Barrio said after his side's defeat of Ireland.
SCOTLAND 13-38 ITALY
It took less than two minutes for the hosts to score the first try in Parma as flanker Giada Franco powered over from close range, and Michela Sillari added the first of her four conversions.
Helen Nelson landed a penalty to get Scotland on the board, but Italy took control of the contest with two tries in four minutes midway through the first half.
Winger Maria Magatti used her strength to score her first in the right corner, before Ilaria Arrighetti and Lucia Gai combined to send Sara Barattin racing through to score under the posts.
Nelson struck a second penalty in the 34th minute, but Arrighetti ensured Italy went into half-time with a commanding 26-6 lead when she took a pass from Veronica Madia, powered into the 22 and held off the attentions of two defenders to score.
Scotland began the second half in the ascendancy but Nelson missed a kick at goal and when the next score came, it was to the hosts.
Centre Sillari finished off a brilliant team move in the 55th minute and then, on the hour mark, captain Manuela Furlan beat the Scottish defence to Madia’s clever chip ahead to dot down Italy’s sixth try.
Italian replacement Francesca Sgorbini was shown a yellow card soon after and Scotland took advantage as Rhona Lloyd produced a strong finish to score in the right corner.
Scotland’s try came too late to alter the result of the match but it at least gave Bryan Easson’s side, who lost prop Christine Belisle to the sin-bin late on, something to take into their next match against Spain.
“We need to work. I'm sure that the players are confident in this, we have to work, but we know the job is not finished,” Italy coach Andrea Di Giandomenico said after the match.
“It’s the balance in the tournament, we have to work. We know this, I don't think the girls are satisfied and stop here.”
Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm said: “The errors were on us, I don't think we're going to make any excuses about that.
“It was things we did wrong, rather than the pressure that we were put [under]. Italy played very well, we know they can do very well off our errors, we've seen that in the past and today we had too many unforced errors on our part, which gave them the platform to play on.
“I think we showed in parts what we can do, particularly in parts of that second half we really showed dominance at set piece and in the maul, and those are things that we'll take into Spain, but there's things we definitely need to look at.”
SPAIN 8-7 IRELAND
Spain began the second match of the day in Parma in the ascendancy and could have taken the lead with barely two minutes on the clock had Patricia Garcia’s penalty not struck the upright.
Garcia converted a three-pointer minutes later but that lead was almost immediately wiped out as Beibhinn Parsons produced a brilliant finish to score in the left corner.
Ireland fly-half Stacey Flood converted to give her side a four-point advantage, but the match remained in the balance even after Spain centre Amalia Argudo had been shown a yellow card at the end of the first half.
Following a quick-tap Cliodhna Moloney did power over the line, but the Ireland hooker was held up by the Spanish defence.
Ireland breached the Spanish goal-line within a minute of the restart, as Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe touched down. But, again their efforts came to nothing as the try was ruled out for an earlier knock-on by scrum-half Kathryn Dane.
Both sides struggled to find an attacking rhythm as the second half progressed but as Spain built an impressive driving maul in the 67th minute, Irish replacement Sam Monaghan was shown a yellow card for bringing it down illegally.
And, four minutes later a flowing attack found Ducher in space and the replacement finished well to put Spain back in front.
Garcia missed the conversion, which meant, when Ireland won a late penalty, Enya Breen had the chance to win it. But, her kick didn’t quite have enough power on it and Spain were able to celebrate their first win in the fixture since 2005.
"Winning against Ireland is a dream, but it doesn't end there," Barrio added. "We knew it was going to be a tough match, but with all due respect to Ireland, we knew we could beat them.
"It was going to be an even game, with few chances. but we have worked on confidence and the players have responded."
Ireland captain Ciara Griffin said: “It wasn't the result we wanted. But flip it, we've got a losing bonus [point], you know, that's something out of it.
“We didn't perform the way we wanted to perform but that's on us, it's fixable. That's the big thing for us to do that now.
“But, you can't put your head down now… there's two more games left, two more that’s there to be won.”
The RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier continues on Sunday when Italy face Ireland and Spain tackle Scotland in the second round of matches.
Images courtesy of World Rugby/Getty