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Italy 27 Scotland 29: Laidlaw hauls Scots back to narrow win in Rome

Sean Maitland scores to launch Scotland's comeback in Rome.
Sean Maitland scores to launch Scotland's comeback in Rome.

Greig Laidlaw dragged Scotland back from defeat twice in one afternoon in Rome with his last-gasp penalty finally edging the contest against the unlucky Italians.

Laidlaw’s kick won the game but it was the assuredness he brought when he moved to stand-off after Finn Russell was concussed that turned what looked like a hopeless situation for Scotland, down 24-12 having been completely outplayed by their hosts.

Instead, with a devastating driving maul proving to be their mean weapon of attack, the Scots scratched their way back in the final quarter with Laidlaw putting first Sean Maitland then Stuart Hogg in for tries to bridge the deficit.

Even a penalty from man of the match Tommaso Allan – who also had two tries – to put Italy back in front with five minutes left didn’t faze the Scots, who simply drove into position to get the penalty for Laidlaw to win the match.

Italy were well worth their half-time advantage with two well-worked tries and probably should have a third right on the break.

Scotland couldn’t get a sniff of the ball for the first six minutes, and in contrast Italy were retaining possession well, forcing an offside penalty for Tommaso Allan to kick them ahead.

When Scotland did get some possession, however, there was a neat half-break from Nick Grigg, Seymour popped up on the wrong wing to make more ground, and after Russell was held short of the line under the posts Hamish Watson flung a long pass for Fraser Brown to touch down wide on the right.

But Scotland gave back the score almost immediately, after a high tackle penalty gave Italy a strong attacking platform in the Scottish 22, Allan’s clever dummy freezing Huw Jones and WP Nel and the stand-off went in untouched, converting himself.

And on 21 minutes Allan’s grubber caught the Scottish defensive line flat-footed, full-back Matteo Minozzi nipping through to beat Hamish Watson to the bouncing ball and score.

Allan’s conversion took Italy out to 17-5 and the Scoits badly needed a quick riposte, getting it through a lineout that had misfired badly up until that point.

Italy didn’t contest one in their own 22 and although the Scots pack took some time to get the maul going, they eventually drove to the line and Barclay spun off to score, Laidlaw converting.

More in the game now, Scotland should have taken the lead when Hogg and Jones combined by Sean Maitland couldn’t hold a sharp pass from Laidlaw with the Italian defence breached.

Italy came again strongly in the dying moments of the half and had a golden chance with Giulio Bisegni wide open on the right only for Tommaso Castello to try and go himself, the Scots eventually stalling the move.

Scotland switched their entire front row for the second half, but Italy retained the initiative and let the Scots off the hook again when it seemed as if Dean Budd had scored but play was called back for a marginal knock on by Bisegni.

But Italy were not to be denied and when a fumble in midfield started a counterattack, Jake Polledri shrugged off Ryan Wilson’s tackle and burst through, finding Allan in support to race away for his second and Italy’s third try, converting himself.

Things hardly improved for the Scots as Russell went off for a head knock, but the recast backline finally made some ground as the Italians started to concede penalties and began to visibly tire.

After two lineout drives didn’t make much ground, Laidlaw’s excellent long pass found Maitland to cut inside and dive over, the veteran’s conversion taking the Scots back to five points back.

Scotland then rallied again with another impressive lineout maul that ate up 25 metres to the Italian goal-line, and from there the Scots worked it to put Hogg slicing in for try, Laidlaw converting to take them ahead for the first time.

However a sliced touch kick from Hogg and Jonny Gray getting penalised on the deck allowed Italy a penalty chance which Allan landed from 40 metres to restore his side’s lead.

The Scots got in position for another strength-sapping maul to force a penalty just inside the 22 with two minutes left, and the ice-cool Laidlaw landed the kick to give the Scots the win.

Italy: M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, G Bisegni, T Castello, M Bellini; T Allan, M Violi; A Lovotti, L Ghiraldini, S Ferrari; A Zanni, D Budd; S Negri, J Polledri, S Parisse (capt).

Replacements: O Fabiani for Ghiraldini 76, N Quiaglio for Lovotti 59, T Pasquali for Ferrari 60, A Steyn for Zanni 53, G Licata for Polledri 67, G Palazzani for Violi 67, C Canna for Castello 74, J Hayward for Benvenuti 60.

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, N Grigg, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, F Brown, W Nel; T Swinson, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson.

Replacements: S McInally for Brown 41, J Bhatti for Reid 41, Z Fagerson for Nel 41, R Gray for Swinson 53, D Denton for Wilson 67, A Price for Russell 55, P Horne for Jones 53.

Ref: P Gauzere (FFR)