Scotland beat Italy in Autumn Nations Cup to maintain the feelgood factor
It’s a fifth win in a row for Gregor Townsend’s side who are now just one result away from equalling their best-ever run of six straight victories.
Next up is France at BT Murrayfield a week on Sunday.
Winger Duhan van der Merwe had crossed for a touchdown in the first half and stand-off Duncan Weir marked his return by converting all four scores.
Italy put in a tremendous shift, particularly in the first half, when Matteo Minozzi scored a fine try. Youthful fly-half Paolo Garbisi kicked four penalties for the home side who were ultimately undone in the final quarter.
Stuart Hogg spoke this week about being inspired by the football team’s dramatic win over Serbia to qualify for the Euros. Their rugby counterparts are now looking to create some history of their own and they eked out this result at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, home of Fiorentina.
It was a torrid opening half for the Scots who were up against an Italian pack on a mission. Every ruck or scrum penalty won was celebrated like the winner in a World Cup final and Italy didn’t look like a side who had lost 27 Six Nations matches in a row.
The hosts put down an early marker when stand-off Garbisi confidently stroked over a sixth-minute penalty after Cummings had been penalised at the ruck.
Scotland tried to feel their way back into the game and a slick passing move involving Weir, Ritchie and Sam Johnson hinted at promise. But when Weir tried to maintain the momentum his rushed pass was intercepted and the visitors were back to square one.
Scotland’s Six Nations win in Wales was built on a solid scrum and success at the breakdown but the Italian forwards were proving an altogether tougher nut to crack. The cause wasn’t helped by the visitors losing two key players 15 minutes in.
Jamie Ritchie, the hero of Llanelli, suffered a head knock and never reappeared, Nick Haining taking his place in the back row. Ritchie was followed off the park by prop Rory Sutherland who looked to have damaged his right knee. Oli Kebble stepped off the bench to win his third cap.
Bad things come in threes and a couple of minutes later Italy doubled their lead when Scotland conceded another penalty and young Garbisi made it 6-0.
Nothing much had gone right for Scotland in the opening quarter but they finally caught a break with a penalty after 20 minutes. Hogg opted to kick for the corner rather than go for the three points with the aim of setting up the driving maul from the lineout which had been so effective against in the wins over Georgia and Wales.
But Italy's pack was proving more stubborn. Nevertheless, Scotland retained possession and kept probing as they were pushed across the park. Their patience was rewarded when scrum-half Ali Price picked out van der Merwe and the big winger surged over for his second try on his second Scotland start.
Weir converted to put the Scots 7-6 ahead but the respite was brief and Italy hit back immediately with a fine try.
A superb break from halfway by Marco Zanon sparked the move and the centre found scrum-half Marcello Violi. Excellent support play by first Mattia Bellini and then Minozzi saw the latter score in the corner. Garbisi hit the post with the conversion attempt but Italy had regained the initiative and led 11-7.
They stretched the lead to seven points with an early second-half penalty from Garbisi as Scotland looked to refocus after torrid opening 40. They thought they had regained a foothold in the game when Weir touched down after some neat interplay with Chris Harris and Sam Johnson but the latter’s pass to the Worcester stand-off was forward and the score was chalked off.
But the visitors weren’t to be denied and drew level with the strangest of tries. The Scots were camped close to the Italian line but time seemed to stand still when Hamish Watson offloaded from the floor to Fagerson. Everyone stopped, anticipating an infringement before Fagerson shook himself awake and plunged over. A quick check with the TMO confirmed the try was good and Weir converted to make it 14-14.
Garbisi restored Italy’s lead with his fourth (and final) penalty but Scotland were beginning to turn the screw. Captain Hogg elected to kick for the corner rather than go for three points when Scotland were awarded a penalty with 14 minutes remaining and the gamble paid off. The visitors had substitute hooker George Turner to thank as he surged at the Italian defence. Price then picked out the onrushing Cummings who found the line. Weir converted to give Scotland a 21-17 lead at a key juncture.
Momentum was now with Townsend’s side. The Italian pack had been subdued, the penalty count reduced and Turner applied the coup de grace. The try came from Scotland’s favourite tactic, the driving maul, and Turner was able to ground the ball with his left hand.
Weir kicked the extras to make it 28-17 for Scotland, their fifth win on the spin.
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