Italy 17-28 Scotland: Late tries from Scott Cummings and George Turner secure win for Gregor Townsend’s side in Autumn Nations Cup opener after impressive first half from hosts
- Duhan van der Merwe went over for the Scots midway through first period
- Italy’s Matteo Minozzi scored in first half as the hosts kicked a couple penalties
- Zander Fagerson brought the visitors level early in the second half with try
- Scott Cummings battled his way through the Italian defence for crucial late try
- George Turner added the icing on the cake for Scotland with a bonus point try
The renaissance of the Scotland team under Gregor Townsend continued in Florence but there was nothing pleasing on the eye in their display.
Not that putting on an artistic show in keeping with playing in the beautiful Italian city will bother the Scotland head coach. It may have been well short of a masterpiece performance but that is still five wins in a row for his side and one where a below par Scotland still emerged victorious.
The positives included a man of the match performance from winger Duhan Van der Merwe who scored one of Scotland’s four tries and a decent second half performance from the forwards.
Scott Cummings scored a crucial late try for Scotland in Autumn Nations win over Italy
George Turner powered over late on for the icing on the cake in bonus point victory for Scots
The pick of the big men up front was prop Zander Fagerson who went over the line almost apologetically and in slow motion as the Italian defence stood like statues watching him. The other two tries came from second row Scott Cummings and replacement hooker George Turner.
All the other points came from the boot of Duncan Weir who slipped off a tackle in the build up to the opening Italian try but recovered to put in a consistent rather than spectacular game in the absence of the injured Finn Russell and Adam Hastings.
The down sides – and there were a few of them- included first half injuries to flanker Jamie Ritchie and prop Rory Sutherland, both of whom had to go of within the first 16 minutes. Throughout there were too many handling errors and influential players such as captain Stuart Hogg tried to force the game too much.
Despite all the negatives in their opening Nations Cup performance this was yet another Scotland win. Another one against France at BT Murrayfield on Sunday will make it six in a row which was last achieved by the 1990 Grand Slam winning team.
Wing Duhan van der Merwe went over for the Scots midway through first period
The margin of victory flattered Scotland as they were lucky to be down by just 11 points to seven at half-time as it was dominated by the Italians who came flying out of the blocks and never let the pace drop for the first forty minutes.
The confidence of the home side was helped in the first minute when they won a penalty at the scrum which set the tone for their early dominance at the set piece. Second row Scott Cummings usually keeps his discipline but after just five minutes he was caught miles offside which gifted Paolo Garbisi a simple penalty to put the Italians ahead. He wasn’t the only Scot having the odd rush of blood early on with captain Hogg caught in possession near his own try-line with only a clearance kick from Weir saving the day.
Scotland wasn’t helped after just twelve minutes when Ritchie, who had been in fantastic form for his country, had to go off after picking up a head knock. With Nic Haining on for him the forwards had to regroup but continued to be bullied.
Four minutes later things got even worse for the Scots. Sutherland had had a poor start to the game and picked up an ankle injury when he collapsed the scrum handing the Italians a penalty. He left the stadium in crutches. Oli Kebble’s introduction made little early difference to begin with as Garbisi put over another penalty within a minute of him coming on when the Scots were penalised at the line-out.
Scotland forward Nick Haining gets a hand in the face courtesy of Italy’s Marco Zanon
Totally against the run of play Scotland took the lead in 22 minutes. Italian captain Luca Biagi was caught offside but rather than give Weir a simply kick at goal Hogg asked him to go to the corner.
Jonny Gray took the line-out throw from McInally and Scotland slowly made their way across the pitch with Ali Price the ringmaster. It was the Scotland scrum-half who made the first break with his offload allowing Gray to get near the line. When the ball was recycled back to Price he fed van der Merwe who run a short, hard line before crashing over. Weir put over the extras.
Scotland’s try may have been well worked but the Italian one was full of individual brilliance. Mattia Bellini made the first break then had Marcello Violi on hus shoulder to offload to. When he looked up Marco Zanon and then Bellini again was there who fed full-back Matteo Minozzi to score a great try.
The home side were well worth their half-time lead but rode their lucky in the first few minutes of the second. They went to sleep defensively when Weir was on the ball and had Chris Harris and Sam Johnson outside him. Weir found Harris who did well to get the ball out to Johnson and it looked like his pass to Weir to score was good. It was only when the incident was looked at again by the TMO did it show the final ball had been fractionally forward.
Italy scrum-half Marcello Violi clears the ball as the hosts hold possession in breakdown area
Scotland did draw level in rather than strange circumstances in 49 minutes when the Italian defence went to sleep again. Hamish Watson’s pass came off the fingers of Jake Polledri and into the arms of the unlikely try scorer of Fagerson who strolled in to score unopposed. Weir put over the conversion.
Hogg put his own side in trouble when he carried the ball back over his own line to give the Italians a put-in at the scrum five metres out. It cost his team three points as the Scots were caught offside in the next play which let Garbisi put over the penalty.
With fifteen minutes left Scotland won a penalty after Watson stole the ball at the breakdown which led to the Italians being penalised. Hogg turned down the chance of an easy three points in favour of a kick to the corner. It was the right decision as from the throw-in taken by Gray the forwards rumbled towards the line. Turner made some hard yards before being stopped just short. Price was up quickly with play to feed Cummings who dived over. Weir’s conversion put his side four points ahead.
Van der Merwe needed to show his defensive skills to save his team when he took the ball near his own line before taking it into traffic which allowed his forwards time to regroup and clear the danger. It was the last time the Scots were in danger.
The replacements props were starting to make a big difference with W P Nel winning a vital scrum penalty which allowed the Scots to slow things down. Turner sealed the match with a one-handed touchdown with four minutes left. Weir put over the extras to secure the scrappy while at the same time confidence boosting win.
Scotland forward Zander Fagerson brought the visitors level with a try early in second period