Scotland finished the Vern Cotter era and the 2017 RBS 6 Nations with an emphatic bonus point victory over Italy as sunshine opened up at last at BT Murrayfield.
The Scots kept the whitewashed Italians off the scoreboard, the first time they’ve “nilled” opposition in the 6 Nations since 1993, while scoring two tries in each half.
Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour had the Scottish tries but the defensive performance was the most impressive given they had shipped a record 61 points against England at Twickenham last week.
Italy are in no way comparable to England in terms of cutting edge but they brought plenty of power and aggression especially in a ten minute spell camped on the Scottish line in the second half. But at both times they worked enough space out wide the Scottish scramble defence somehow saved the day.
The Scots also negotiated a sizeable deficit on the penalty count and ten minutes of a yellow card for captain John Barclay without conceding.
Russell was awarded man of the match but it could have gone to a number of Scots, particularly Zander Fagerson who was outstanding in a strong pack performance, especially in the scrummage.
It’s Scotland’s third win of the championship, only the second time and first since 2006 they have managed to finish with more wins than losses in a 6 Natuions campaign.
It took the intervention of referee Mathieu Raynal to kick start what was a dreadful game in the dreich over Murrayfield for the first 20 minutes.
Scotland seemed happy to kick away all the ball they secured while Italy tried to maul every possession they got with varied results.
Stuart Hogg’s monster penalty from near halfway after the Italian scrummage splintered was the only score of the first quarter, Carlo Canna missing an easy penalty chance to level the scores.
Finally the ref called together the captains after one series of play littered with errors and penalties to ask them to be more positive, and almost immediately Scotland obliged.
Two breaks by Huw Jones nearly opened up Italy and Tim Visser was only just short of a cross kick, but Scotland turned the screw kicking a penalty to the corner as Jones went off with a knock to be replaced by Matt Scott.
They won solid possession and worked a series of phases close to the line which finished with Russell squirting through a gap between defenders for the opening try, and the stand-off converted himself.
Canna missed a second relatively simple penalty chance and Scotland bagged their second try just before the break.
Jonny Gray stole a lineout after a superb long touchfinder from Hogg, Scott almost went through on a short pass from Russell and with a penalty advantage, Ali Price’s high kick into the in-goal area was knocked back by Hogg for Scott to mark his comeback with a gift try.
Russell missed the tight conversion but Canna couldn’t convert a third penalty try to keep Italy scoreless going in at half-time.
Scotland were under the cosh for much of the 15 minutes after half-time after Hogg’s poor kick allowed Italy to set up a series of driving mauls the Scots struggled to cope with.
Successive penalties meant skipper John Barclay saw a yellow card for persistent offending, but Italy somehow butchered not one but two two-man overlaps when they put the ball wide and eventually the Scots forced a knock-on and were able to clear.
And the Scots made the Italians pay with a third try on 62 minutes, Hogg’s deft chip over the top of the rush defence seeing Visser slide across the wet turf to dot the ball down after Padovani couldn’t clean up, Russell adding the conversion.
And in a build-up typical of the patient ball retention Scotland have used through the championship, they worked space through multiple phases for Russell and Hogg to open up a gap for Tommy Seymour to score the bonus point try in seven minutes remaining, Russell converting.
Italy pressed for some consolation but the Scots defence held out to record their first shut-out in the Six Nations since 1993.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell, A Price; G Reid, R Ford, Z Fagerson; G Gilchrist, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson.
Replacements: F Brown for Ford 66, A Dell for Reid 56, S Berghan for Fagerson 66, T Swinson for Gilchrist 57, C du Preez for Wilson 49, H Pyrgos for Price 54, D Weir for Scott 75, M Scott for Jones 26.
Italy: E Padovani; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, L McLean, G Venditti; C Canna, E Gori; A Lovotti, O Gega, L Cittadini; M Fuser, G Biagi; A Steyn, M Mbanda, S Parisse (capt).
Replacements: L Ghiraldini for Gega 40, S Panico for Lovotti 63, D Chistolini for Cittadini 40, F Ruzza for Biagi 74, F Minto for Mbanda 53, M Violi for Gori 53, L Sperandio for Canna .
Ref: M Raynal (FFR)