Late tries from Scott Cummings and George Turner saw Scotland break Italy’s hearts and kick off their Autumn Nations Cup campaign with a 28-17 bonus-point win in Florence.
Franco Smith’s new-look team led 11-7 at the break, the highlight of the first 40 minutes a scintillating move which led to Matteo Minozi’s try just moments after Duhan van der Merwe had powered over for Scotland.
But Zander Fagerson’s converted try 10 minutes into the second half sparked Scotland into life, and further scores from second-row Cummings and replacement hooker Turner secured the try-scoring bonus along with denying Italy their first win against them since February 2015.
The early minutes were dominated by a kicking duel, but Italy started to make inroads on the back of some ill-discipline from Scotland which led to Paolo Garbisi slotting over two penalties inside the first 18 minutes to put the hosts into a six-point lead.
The Italians had the upper hand at the scrum as well, and forwards coach and former Italy front-row Giampiero di Carli would no doubt have approved – as he would have done of the two crucial turnovers won by prop Danilo Fischetti before half-time.
Scotland were not being helped in that department by loose-head prop Rory Sutherland suffering an injury which ultimately forced him off early and they had to make a first-half change in the back row as well, due to Jamie Ritchie suffering a head injury.
Nevertheless, it was Gregor Townsend’s men who crossed the try-line first on 24 minutes after choosing to kick to touch from a penalty in an attacking position. Winning the ball back from the line-out, the forwards took the ball up and the attack was finished when winger Van Der Merwe ran a superb line to collect Ali Price’s pass and burst through a gap from close range.
Duncan Weir converted, but the lead last barely two minutes as Italy’s backs cut loose, with Marco Zanon breaking the line followed by the ball going through the hands of Marcello Violi and Jacopo Trulla for full-back Minozi to finish for an unconverted score.
That put Italy four points clear at half-time and they moved further ahead within two minutes of the restart as an infringement at a line-out from Blade Thompson allowed Garbisi to kick his third penalty of the afternoon.
Scotland seemed to be roused from their slumber by this though and, after Weir had a try ruled out for a forward pass, they evened things up on 50 minutes – albeit in slightly bizarre circumstances.
It needed the television match official to untangle things, but when he did, it showed Hamish Watson’s offload off the ground had been knocked into the hands of Fagerson by Jake Polledri for the tight-head to rumble over for a try while Italy’s defence stood watching seemingly anticipating the referee’s whistle for an infringement.
Weir converted again to bring Scotland level, but Italy edged back in front as the clock ticked over past the hour mark with fly-half Garbisi landing another penalty after his side had forced a five-metre scrum and the away side had been pinged for offside.
There was to be no denying Scotland though and another penalty kicked to touch in an attacking position led to their third try, with Turner breaking off the back of a maul and taking his team to within striking distance before Price’s inside pass sent Turner through for another converted score.
And the seal was put on the win by Glasgow Warriors forward Turner from another line-out in the 76th minute, as well as clinching the bonus point as Scotland made the perfect start to their Pool B fixtures.
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