Scotland toughed out their fifth win in succession and launched their Autumn Nations Cup in strong fashion as they dominated the second half in Florence for another win over Italy.
Trailing 11-7 at half-time and really deserving to, the Scots screwed the nut, tidied up some dodgy discipline and powered their way to three converted tries in the second half for what was a more comfortable win on the scoreboard than it felt to watch.
The forwards did all the graft, although Duhan van der Merwe’s eye-catching performance and first half try gained him man of the match. The second half scores came from the front five forwards Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings and George Turner, while Duncan Weir kicked four conversions on his comeback and was denied his own try only by a last forward pass.
The Scots were clinical when they needed to be, and patient to wait for the Italians’ suspect endurance to completely dry up during the last 15 minutes. The downside was injuries to Rory Sutherland and Jamie Ritchie, the prop’s problem looking like a long term one as he was lifted from the field.
It’s only the second time Scotland have won five in a row this century, and they aim to equal the all-time record of six successive wins against France next week.
The young Italian side deserved their lead at the half, but it was one key Scottish defensive mistake that really handed them their four-point advantage.
The Scots found themselves falling foul of referee Luke Pearce too often early on, with Scott Cummings adjudged to have gone offside after he ripped a ball and Paolo Garbisi giving the Italians an early lead.
Alarmingly for Scotland, they lost Ritchie to a head knock and then Sutherland to a serious-looking knee injury after a Scottish scrummage was simply blown off the ball by an Italian shove.
Straight after the Scots threw a man across a defensive lineout and Garbisi kicked his side further ahead with the penalty.
Scotland hadn’t really fired a shot, favouring a speculative kicking game until the Italians went off their feet at a ruck to be penalised and allow the visitors their first real attacking platform.
A couple of mauls were stopped at close range, but after making good probes through Jonny Gray, Ali Price’s short pass found van der Merwe making the perfect angled run to go through the Italian defensive line untouched and under the posts, Weir converting.
But the lead was much too brief, Italy going wide on their next attack and Marco Zanon going straight through Weir’s ineffectual tackle near halfway.
The Scots scrambled back but Italy’s support runners Violi and Bellini were there to carru on the centre’s break and full-back Matteo Minozzi finished it off in the corner.
The try went unconverted and the Scots had the better of the last 10 minutes of the half, but Italy twice stole ball on the ground deep in their own half, one tackle by Violi on Harris ended a potential clean break and Stuart Hogg’s floated pass right at half-time went into touch.
Scotland immediately handed Italy a further advantage after the break with a silly lineout penalty converted into three points by Gabrisi, but the Scots started to gain the ascendancy.
They had a try in the corner by Weir after Harris and Johnson combined well only for the final pass to go forward, but the Scots scored within a couple of minutes in bizarre fashion.
Hamish Watson’s off load in attack deflected off a hand into Zander Fagerson’s hands and everyone stopped expecting a knock-on call as the prop rumbled over, but the TMO showed it was an Italian hand that made contact and the try stood, Weir converting.
Darcy Graham nearly wriggled free down the touchline as the Scots pressed, but a superb grubber by Garbisi forced Hogg to carry over his own line and when the visitors were penalised for offside in defence the Italian stand-off kicked his side ahead again.
When Watson turned the Italian over near their own 22 in 65 minutes the Scots opted not take the equalising three points and went for the corner.
Although their maul was stopped again, replacement hooker George Turner made a powerful drive off the back and eventually Cummings smashed over for the key score near the posts.
Weir converted for a four point lead, and a lineout steal by Jonny Gray followed by a penalty at the scrum forced by replacement WP Nel allowed the Scots right back down in the Italy 22.
This time the maul so effective in the last two games worked perfectly, Turner crashing over to secure the victory, with Weir’s conversion underlining it.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe; Duncan Weir, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson; Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray; Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: George Turner for McInally 61, Oli Kebble for Sutherland 16, WP Nel for Fagerson 66, Sam Skinner for Haining 62, Nick Haining for Ritchie 10, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne for Price 72, James Lang for Johnson 69, Blair Kinghorn for Graham 66.
Italy: Matteo Minozzi; Jacopo Trulla, Marco Zanon, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini; Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi (capt), Giosue Zilocchi; Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolo Cannone; Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Jake Polledri.
Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini for Bigi 47, Simone Ferrari for Fischetti 66, Pietro Ceccarelli for Zilocchi 55, Johan Meyer for Negri 48, Maxime Mbanda for Polledri 68, Stephen Varney for Violi 55, Tomasso Allan for Minozzi 66, Federico Mori for Zanon 56.
Ref: Luke Pearce (RFU)