Mission accomplished in Rome, but this was not a particularly convincing performance by the visitors. Scotland now head to Dublin for their final match of this Six Nations campaign with winning momentum, but they’ll be in no doubt that they will need to be an awful lot better next Saturday if they are going to keep it respectable against Ireland.
Eight tries scored in total meant that this spectacle was not completely devoid of entertainment value, but the rugby on display between those isolated highlights was not really of a standard to enliven the generally subdued crowd inside a half empty – due to Covid restrictions – Stadio Olimpico .
After a tough couple of weeks against Wales and France, which had clearly shaken Scottish confidence, Gregor Townsend’s side struggled to find any rhythm during the opening quarter of an hour, committing several unforced errors including the concession of three soft penalties, with an offside on four minutes allowing Azzurri fly-half Paolo Garbisi to nudge his side into a three-point lead.
Against higher caliber opposition this game could have been out of sight before the Scots had fired a shot.
Eventually, however, it clicked for the visitors on 18 minutes when Captain Stuart Hogg countered from deep. Darcy Graham provided the link to send George Turner rampaging up the right touchline. Ali Price carried the move on, and when the scrum-half was brought down 15 yards from glory, Graham scooped up and fed Finn Russell, who fired one of his trademark miss-passes leftward for Sam Johnson to score in the corner.
Italy came back hard, with Toa Halafihi latching on to a loose Russell pass to set up camp for his team inside Scotland’s 22, but the visitors rode their luck then delivered a length-of-the-park sucker-punch, which came from a Price interception on his own line and featured a smart chip-kick from Kyle Steyn to send Chris Harris on an unchallenged canter over the home try-line.
Italy dug deep again to keep themselves in the contest, and after a long-range penalty attempt from Garbisi fell short, their perseverance was finally rewarded from a set move off scrum ball in the middle of the park, which culminated in Pierre Bruno passing back inside just before being bundled into touch by Hogg to provide Callum Braley with the simplest of finishes.
Scotland, however, had the last word of the half with a scrum move of their own which involved Russell and Hogg tying up Italy’s midfield then Harris coming back against the grain to burst the line for his second try of the match.
The Scots were nine points ahead but still didn’t look settled, and they squandered possession twice in the opening five minutes of the second half through loose passes, before it finally clicked again Graham collected an inside pass from Russell and scrambled home on 48 minutes to bring up the bonus-point.
At last it looked like Scotland had rediscovered some of their swagger and man-of-the-match Price took just enough time to weigh up his options after picking up possession in the back-field for a gap to open up which he happily darted through , before sending Hogg in for try number five.
Italy were down, but they weren’t prepared to drop out of this match without a fight, and they struck back through replacement Ange Capuozzo, with Garbisi’s touchline conversion, making 17-33 with just over 10 minutes left to play.
The home team dominated the remainder of the match and the Scots had to dig deep to keep their line intact, which they managed until the third minute of injury-time, when Capuozzo wriggled over for his second, which wasn’t enough to salvage a bonus-point but will provide the Azzurri with some sort of morale boost as they continue to scrap top stay relevant in this championship.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism