Six Nations 2016: Italy 20-36 Scotland
|RBS Six Nations|
|Italy (10) 20|
|Tries: Ghiraldini, Fuser Cons: Haimona 2 Pens: Haimona 2|
|Scotland (17) 36|
|Tries: Barclay, Hardie, Seymour Cons: Laidlaw 3 Pens: Laidlaw 5|
Scotland brought an end to a nine-match losing run in the Six Nations with a precious 36-20 win over Italy in Rome.
Vern Cotter's team thundered into a 17-3 lead with clinical early tries from John Barclay and John Hardie.
Italy responded with scores from Leonardo Ghiraldini and Marco Fuser, while Scotland lost Finn Russell and WP Nel to the sin-bin in the last quarter.
But Greig Laidlaw's nerveless goal-kicking and Tommy Seymour's late try saw them over the winning line at last.
Explosive start from Scots
Key to Scotland's win was their scrum. It was exceptional, winning penalty after penalty, lifting several sieges and affording the outstanding Laidlaw the opportunity to bang over three-pointers, which he did like a metronome.
Kelly Haimona opened the scoring with an early penalty for Italy, but that was just a precursor to that explosive passage from the Scots.
Barclay's 10th-minute try had its origins in fast ruck ball. When Scotland attacked space, Tim Visser drew two Italian defenders and found Stuart Hogg, who took the contact, hit the floor and offloaded to the on-rushing Barclay.
It was a clinical score and it was followed by another seven minutes later.
Russell made the initial incision, slipping through a gap and putting the Italians on the back foot. The fly-half had an arriving army of forwards to support him, among them Ryan Wilson, who had come into the starting line-up as a late replacement for the injured David Denton.
Wilson was outstanding in those early moments and it was his pass that put Hardie over in the left corner.
When Laidlaw added a penalty just before the half-hour, Scotland led 17-3 - alien territory for a team that had forgotten how to win these games.
Italy fightback tests Scots' resolve
The visitors became strangely passive after they built their lead and Italy roused themselves at last.
The hosts got their hands on the ball, showed patience and power and, when Gonzalo Garcia blasted over Laidlaw, veteran hooker Ghiraldini crashed over.
Haimona added the conversion to make it 17-10, before Laidlaw missed his only shot at goal with the last kick of the half.
He and Haimona traded penalties early in the second half before the Scotland captain boomed over another kick close to the hour to give his team a 13-point cushion.
That feel-good factor was seriously threatened when Russell saw yellow for hands in a ruck and then Fuser went over for a converted try.
Captain Laidlaw keeps calm
Credit Laidlaw, though. When Scotland needed their captain, he delivered. He kicked everything after the interval - four penalties and a third conversion, for a 21-point personal haul.
The penalty that made it 29-20 in the 66th minute was massive. It was from distance, but he nailed it and kept his team calm in the process.
Moments of concern did follow, though. Scotland struggled desperately at re-starts and put themselves under pressure, but they stood up. Russell returned but Nel exited - for a deliberate knock-on - and still Scotland held firm.
The last significant act was that try from Seymour. It began right down the other end of the pitch, where Italy were attacking. When the Azzurri spilled it, Russell hacked a kick downfield and when the space opened up, Hogg threw a gorgeous pass out the side door to Seymour, whose 13th Test try was greeted rapturously by his team-mates.
The relief in the voices of the Scotland players was palpable. Next up for Scotland: the brutish French at Murrayfield in a fortnight.
For the first time in two years they will go into a Six Nations game on the back of a victory. The challenge now is to kick-on and win two Six Nations games in the same season for just the second time in a decade.
Italy: David Odiete, Leonardo Sarto, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Mattia Bellini, Kelly Haimona, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Citttadini, Marco Fuser, Joshua Furno, Francesco Minto, Alessandro Zanni, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements: Davide Giazzon (for Ghiraldini, 58), Matteo Zanusso (for Lovotti, 58), Martin Castrogiovanni (for Citttadini, 58), Valerio Bernabo (for Furno, 37), Andries Van Schalkwyk (for Minto, 68), Guglielmo Palazzani (for Gori, 79), Edoardo Padovani (for Haimona, 72), Andrea Pratichetti (for Garcia, 75).
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Duncan Taylor, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray; John Barclay, John Hardie, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Stuart McInally (for Ford, 64), Moray Low (for Barclay, 79), Tim Swinson (for R Gray, 79), Josh Strauss (for Wilson, 68), Peter Horne (for Bennett, 64), Sean Lamont (for Visser, 73).
Not used: Rory Sutherland, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (RSA)
Touch judges: Pascal Gauzere (FRA) & Nick Briant (NZL)
TMO: Graham Hughes (ENG)