Chris Harris scores a double as Gregor Townsend's men win a sparkling match 33-22 in Rome and climb to fourth in the table. Enterprising Italy are left empty-handed again
Five-try Scots bounce back in Italy
Scotland leapfrogged Wales to move into fourth place in the Guinness Six Nations table with an entertaining victory in Rome. The Scots scored five tries to three in a contest to which Italy contributed enormously.
“Full credit to them for being part of a very good game of rugby,” said commentator Scott Hastings. “They showed they can live at this level.”
Unfortunately for the Azzurri, they again finished without even a consolation bonus point as they succumbed to a record 36th successive defeat in the championship. Among several bright spots for them was a two-try debut for 22-year-old replacement Ange Capuozzo.
For Scotland, scrum-half Ali Price marked his 50th cap with a Man of the Match performance. Half-back partner Finn Russell, under pressure to deliver after a couple of under-par performances, showed several moments of class. Both took their leave with five minutes remaining and the job safely done.
Questions remain for Scotland, not least concerning a looseness of discipline in the early stages and the failure to stamp their authority on proceedings having forged a 23-point lead by the hour. They will also wonder why they missed 30 tackles, ten fewer than Italy in a match that contrasted sharply with the defensive masterclass seen in Cardiff on Friday night.
However, the visitors rediscovered much of the attacking brio that has punctuated their efforts over the past 12 months and tries resulted from Chris Harris (two), Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham and captain Stuart Hogg.
The first quarter failed to do justice to the perfect conditions, with Paolo Garbisi’s penalty, after Scotland strayed offside at a lineout, the only score in a nondescript first 18 minutes.
The match then burst into life as Scotland scored from their first real attack. Hooker George Turner bust through Callum Braley’s tackle on the short side and burst clear for a break that was supported by the lively Price. Russell’s long pass to Sam Johnson on the left touchline completed the move.
Italy nearly responded after No 8 Toa Halafihi’s interception sparked panic but as they threatened near the line, Price responded with an interception of his own. He galloped up to near halfway before floating a pass to Kyle Steyn on the left, and the winger’s cross kick was gathered by Harris in an expanse of space. Russell converted, 3-12.
Italy needed to score next and they did when Pierre Bruno got his skates on down the right and produced a superb offload just before Hogg’s tackle pushed him into touch. Scrum-half Braley, who has been signed by Northampton for next season, took the ball to score and Garbisi converted from the touchline.
It was good to see referee Luke Pearce not overdo the advantage law after Matt Carley’s overly generous approach last night. Pearce also reacted quickly when Juan Ignacio Brex took a knock, the English official blowing up so the Italian centre could receive immediate treatment. Like his captain Michele Lamaro earlier, he went off for an HIA.
Scotland struck a telling blow just before half-time from a five-metre scrum as Price, Russell and Hogg linked to put Harris over for his second try, the Gloucester centre running a smart unders line to expose replacement Marco Zanon. Russell’s conversion made it 19-10 to Scotland at the break.
There was no let-up in the second half as both teams ran the ball at will. Graham, a try-scorer in round two in Cardiff, grabbed the bonus-point try after Russell’s clever footwork committed two defenders.
And record try-scorer Hogg got in on the act after Price broke the line and delivered a pass that was flat enough to prompt Halafihi to query it with referee Pearce.
There was time for Azzurri full-back Capuozzo to announce himself on the Test stage, the Grenoble player scoring in the right-hand corner on 66 minutes and again in the final play to give the final scoreline a respectable gloss.
After the 13-man rearguard action in Dublin, when they made 172 tackles, Italy relished putting the ball through the hands. They fought to the end, which hasn’t always happened. “It’s as good as we’ve seen Italy play,” said commentator Ben Kay, working for ITV.
Nevertheless, a seventh winless championship in a row looms for them unless they can shock Wales next weekend in Cardiff.
Scotland will be almost as unfancied in Ireland, where they will seek their third win of the tournament to match their return in the 2020 and 2021 editions.
Italy: Edoardo Padovani (Marco Zanon 67); Pierre Bruno (Ange Capuozzo 46), Juan Ignacio Brex (Marco Zanon 35-40), Leonardo Marin, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Callum Braley (Alessandro Fusco 52); Danilo Fishetti (Ivan Nemer 52), Giocomo Nicotera (Luca Bigi 52), Pietro Ceccarelli (Tiziano Pasquali 52), Niccolò Cannone (David Sisi 54), Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli (Braam Steyn 72), Michele Lamaro (capt, Braam Steyn 16-23), Toa Halafihi.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson (Sione Tuipulotu 76), Kyle Steyn; Finn Russell (Adam Hastings 76), Ali Price (Ben Vellacott 76); Pierre Schoeman (Allan Dell 60), George Turner (Stuart McInally 60), Zander Fagerson (WP Nel 60), Sam Skinner (Jamie Hodgson 76), Grant Gilchrist, Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson (Magnus Bradbury 63).
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