Italy V Scotland
Scotland finished third in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations courtesy of a dramatic last-gasp victory in Rome (27-29).
A penalty two minutes from time by Greig Laidlaw saw the visitors home 27-29, after they were forced to fight back from 12-point deficits twice in the game.
Improved ball retention and an impressive shift from the forward pack brought Scotland back into a game they were in danger of losing after being hit early in a break-neck first-half attack by the home side, orchestrated by former Scotland U20 stand-off Tommaso Allan.
It was fly-half Allan who put the first points on the board with a penalty on five minutes after Italy swarmed into the Scottish 22 from the opening scrum of the game and forced an error at the breakdown (3-0).
Scotland responded well from the restart, winning a lineout, and, after patient recycling and carries from lock Tim Swinson and centre Nick Grigg, back-row Hamish Watson threw a pass out wide for hooker Fraser Brown to score. Laidlaw pushed the conversion just wide (3-5).
Just four minutes later Italy hit back after talismanic captain Sergio Parisse was high tackled and Allan kicked mid-way into the Scottish 22 with the penalty.
From the resulting phases Italy built pressure until Allan wrong-footed the Scottish defence to break the line. The fly-half converted his own try (10-5).
The home side had momentum now and with the crowd at their back they again upped the tempo in the Scottish 22.
Allan pushed a kick through the defensive line. Watson raced back but was beaten to the bounce by full-back Minozzi who continued his impressive tournament. Allan kicked the conversion (17-5).
Scotland were stung into action and varied their point of attack.
A driving lineout maul pulled in Italian defenders and captain John Barclay touched down from short range.
Laidlaw converted to round off a frantic opening 25 minutes, which saw four tries and the defences of both sides exposed (17-12).
Scotland settled quicker and started to retain possession better, building phases to push back the home side.
Again, accuracy and fluency were hard to come by and, despite nine phases in the Italian 22 on the half hour, the Scots conceded a penalty and left empty handed.
The pendulum swung back Italy’s way though as the half drew to a close.
A penalty conceded by Scotland with the clock on 40 minutes was kicked into their 22 by Allan.
This time it was the visitors' turn to defend and, after repelling 16 phases, they got bodies around the ball carrier to win back possession and end the half.
Half-time: Italy 17-12 Scotland
Scotland began the second half with a brand-new front-row but the Italians started the brighter and only a TMO-review denied a try for flanker Sebastian Negri for a knock on in the build-up on 42 minutes.
Negri featured shortly after though when his break inside the Scots half gave Allan a clear run into the Scottish 22 for the Italian’s third try on 46 minutes.
Allan converted (24-12).
Scotland now faced a real test of character after struggling in the opening spell of the second-half.
It took the midway point in the half for Scotland to build consistent pressure and they forced the Italians to concede three penalties in their own 22, which Scotland kicked to touch each time.
The quality of Scotland’s driving maul showed again as they sucked in the defence until the ball was spun wide for Sean Maitland to score. Laidlaw added the extras (24-19).
An error by Sergio Parisse – who in defeat became the first player to feature in 100 Test losses – led to Scotland’s fourth try.
The Italian captain conceded a penalty at the breakdown, with back-row Hamish Watson jackling superbly, Stuart Hogg kicked into the opposition 15m line.
From the lineout, Scotland generated a fantastic maul, which rumbled right up to the Italian 5m line.
From there Scotland were able to spin it wide and Stuart Hogg, scoring his 18th try for Scotland, ashe arced around the defenders to score the bonus-point try.
Laidlaw converted on the angle to give Scotland a temporary lead, with just ten minutes remaining (24-26).
Both sides were within touching distance of the win and the fans of both sides responded to create a pulsating atmosphere for the conclusion of the game.
Italy struck first with an Allan penalty on 75 minutes after Jonny Gray, completing one of his 18 match tackles, was caught on his back and penalised for not rolling away (27-26).
The scene was set for a grandstand finish with Scotland pushing for their third three-win championship in the Six Nations and Italy desperate to end a 16-match losing streak in the tournament.
Once again it was the Scottish pack that provided the difference and, from a lineout in the Italian half, another driving maul drew the vital penalty.
With three minutes on the clock remaining and the penalty close to the far touchline just outside the Italian 22 a decision needed to be made.
A nod to the posts gave Laidlaw a chance to kick for victory, which he took with both hands (27-29).
Scotland were able to secure the restart and from a final scrum and replacement Ali Price kicked the ball dead to end the game and give Scotland a hard-earned bonus point away win.
Full time: Italy 27-29 Scotland
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Nick Grigg (all Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Saracens); Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne); Gordon Reid (London Irish), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (both Glasgow Warriors), John Barclay (Scarlets) CAPTAIN, Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors). Subs: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby) on for Brown 40mins, Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) on for Reid 40 mins, Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) on for Nel 40mins, Richie Gray (Toulouse) on for Swinson 52mins, David Denton (Worcester Warriors) on for Wilson 66mins, Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) on for Russell 53mins, Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors) on for Jones 53mins, Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby).
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse CAPTAIN, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri da Oleggio, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.Subs: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Abraham Steyn, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Touch judges: Jerome Garces (France) and Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)