Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw says he looked in his team-mates’ eyes before taking on Italy in Rome and knew they would finally end their two-year search for a Six Nations win.
The Scots had not triumphed in a Championship clash since their last visit to the Eternal City in 2014. But they claimed a 36-20 victory thanks in part to tries from John Barclay, John Hardie and Tommy Seymour.
The hosts came close at the Stadio Olimpico with scores from Leonardo Ghiraldini and Marco Fuser but every time the Azzurri thought they were on a charge, captain Laidlaw kept them at bay with his trusty kicking.
He nailed seven attempts out of eight, adding 21 points, to ensure an embarrassing nine-game run of defeats did not become 10, and the Gloucester scrum-half insisted he never doubted Vern Cotter’s side would eventually come good after witnessing the steely resolve in his colleagues ahead of the match.
“We are developing that leadership group within this squad now and it’s getting a lot easier to be that guy at the front. I knew when we took to the field that we were going to win, I could see it in the boys’ eyes,” said the skipper. “I saw it in the way that we had prepared all week under Vern and the other coaches, so that for me is pleasing.
“Italy were on top for a couple of points in the game which you are always going to get at this level, but our scrum was absolutely fantastic.
“We had Stuart Hogg’s touch of class at the end to put Tommy Seymour away for the third which was fantastic.
“The character shown when we were defending on our line, 15 of us, just digging in, filling in where we’re needed, that is what got us across the line.”
Scotland lost both their opening clashes with England and Wales after letting golden opportunities slip at vital moments, but they were never in danger of tripping up this time after flying out of the traps.
Barclay was teed up by a clever offload from Hogg after 10 minutes while Hardie dived over just after the quarter hour following Finn Russell’s daring break.
Ghiraldini trimmed the deficit back after 30 minutes before Fuser squeezed the ball down for Italy’s second midway through the second half after Finn Russell was sent to the sin bin. But Scotland – thanks to Laidlaw, whose kicking kept the scoreboard ticking over – always held the hosts at arm’s length.
WP Nel was also shown a yellow card with eight minutes remaining but Scotland refused to panic and eventually sealed the victory they craved so badly two minutes from time when Hogg produced another stunning assist for Seymour as he tossed the ball to his Glasgow team-mate from behind his back.
Now Laidlaw is determined to use the victory as a springboard for further success.
“I was delighted to win the game,” he said. “It’s been a while since we won. Now, on the back of a good victory, we can’t wait to pull on that jersey again in a few weeks’ time against France back at home.”
It was a disappointing final home match for Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel, who is leaving at the end of the tournament after four and a half years in charge.
“We conceded 14 points at the beginning of the match and we were always behind,” Brunel said. “Then we had the chance to come back in the final 10 minutes but we were a bit too frenzied.”