The scrum-half was at the heart of everything good in the visitors’ 33-22 bonus point victory over Italy, which lifted Gregor Townsend’s side above Wales and back into fourth place in the standings.
They will head to Dublin for the final game next weekend seeking to finish the championship with three victories, the total they mustered under Townsend in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
It was a far from flawless performance from Scotland, who conceded two late scores to Italy’s baby-faced debutant Ange Capuozzo. But in truth, the Scots were so far ahead by that point that it made little difference to the outcome and Townsend will take heart from five good tries and five championship points.
Chris Harris, having only scored three tries in 34 previous Tests for Scotland, chipped in with two. The centre now has four in total against the Azzurri. The others came from Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg. Finn Russell converted four of them.
For the hosts, it was a 36th consecutive loss in the Six Nations, but they at least had three tries to show for their troubles after failing to breach the line against England and Ireland. Scrum-half Callum Braley notched one in the first half before Capuozzo weighed in with his late double.
There was a special moment after the match when the Cuttitta Cup was presented to Scotland and lifted jointly by Price and Ben Vellacott, who made his debut as a late substitute. The new trophy was made in honour of the former Italy prop Massimo Cuttitta who also served Scotland, as a scrum-coach, but who died tragically young, at 54, last year from Covid.
Scotland didn’t start particularly well and Paolo Garbisi’s early penalty had Italy 3-0 ahead but the game swung dramatically in the visitors’ favour in a five-minute period midway through the first half which yielded two thrilling tries.
Johnson, cast aside after the opening win over England but recalled for Rome, scored the first but it was a great team try. Turner made impressive strides up the right wing before handing over to Price. The scrum-half buzzed forward but had to wait for support. Graham was there first and fed Russell whose long looping pass picked out Johson who ran a straight line to the corner to touch down.
Russell’s conversion was off target but the stand-off now had a spring in his step. His next attempt at a long floated pass was botched but, as luck would have it, Italy fluffed their lines and managed to turn a scoring position into Scotland’s second try. It was the sort of moment which turns games.
Russell’s pass on his own 22 was intercepted and the Scots were forced to defend on their own line but Price then burst out to make an interception of his own, seizing Braley’s pass and surging up the field. He found Kyle Steyn with a long pass and, with Italian defenders closing in on the winger, Steyn uncorked a delightful left-foot chip into the path of Harris who gathered and scored under the posts. Russell converted.
Braley made amends eight minutes later, finishing off good work by winger Pierre Bruno for the home side’s first try which Garbisi converted.
It was a warning for the Scots that there was still much work to be done. Price took heed and embarked on another lung-bursting break which got Townsend’s side back into the Italian danger zone. Scotland increased the pressure and won a scrum close to the posts. Price fed Russell, who slipped it back to Hogg who in turn played in Harris for his second try of the match. Russell converted to put Scotland 19-10 ahead at the break.
It was a highly efficient first 40 for the Scots, who had spent a total of 53 seconds inside the home side’s 22 but managed to score three tries. Italy, by contrast, had only one to show for three minutes 54 seconds inside the Scotland 22.
Townsend’s side hadn’t enjoyed a bonus point win in the Six Nations since the record-breaking home victory over Italy last season but Graham made sure of the extra point when he scored Scotland’s fourth try after 48 minutes. Russell’s bodyswerve took two men out and Graham did the rest, taking the stand-off’s pass and then jinking through for his 12th Test try in 26 games.
Scotland stretched their lead 12 minutes later as Hogg got his first try of the championship. Again, Price was in the thick of it, finding himself with space and time in the midfield. He seemed to amble about for a bit before bursting forward and then spinning the ball out to Hogg for the captain’s 26th Test try.
Italy weren’t done, however, and finished the game strongly. Capuozzo, the Grenoble full-back, stepped off the bench to score a debut try which Garbisi converted, reducing Scotland’s lead to 33-17. Capuozzo then got another, right at the death, prompting roars of approval inside the Stadio Olimpico.
Russell, who converted four out of five of Scotland’s tries, had made way for Adam Hastings by that point and Price was also taken off, allowing Vellacott to make his Scotland bow.
Italy scorers: Tries: Braley, Capuozzo 2. Cons: Garbisi 2. Pen: Garbisi.
Scotland scorers: Tries Johnson, Harris 2, Graham, Hogg. Cons: Russell 4.
Italy: E Padovani (A Steyn 67); P Bruno (A Capuozzo 45), J I Brex (M Zanon 34), L Marin, M Ioane; P Garbisi, C Braley (A Fusco 51); D Fischetti (I Nemer 51), G Nicotera (L Bigi 51), P Ceccarelli (T Pasquali 51), N Cannone (D Sisi 54), F Ruzza, G Pettinelli, M Lamaro, T Halafihi.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson (S Tuipulotu 75), K Steyn; F Russell (A Hastings 75), A Price (B Vellacott 75); P Schoeman (A Dell 59), G Turner (S McInally 59), Z Fagerson (WP Nel 59), S Skinner (J Hodgson 75), G Gilchrist, R Darge, H Watson, M Fagerson (M Bradbury 61).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).