Bonus point victory in Italy

Scotland opened their Autumn Nations Cup campaign with a bonus point victory in Italy this afternoon.

It was Scotland’s fifth win on the bounce – the first time they had achieved that sequence since 2011 – and their ninth successive triumph against the Azzurri.

Overturning a half-time deficit of four points, Scotland played with greater energy and purpose in the second half and crafted three tries as a consequence to add to man of the match Duhan Van Der Merwe’s first half counter.

It was all the more creditable performance given injuries which saw Jamie Ritchie and Rory Sutherland leave the field in the first-half.

Italy’s run of defeats continued but in their young stand-off Paolo Garbisi, they appear to have unearthed a talent.

At the sun-dappled Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, Stuart Hogg kicked-off for the visitors. Scotland were free-kicked at the first scrum and there was a spot of aerial ping-pong before Duncan Weir opted to find touch.

Scott Cummings was pinged for a breakdown offside and Garbisi landed Italy’s first points with the penalty (3-0, 6 mins).

Darcy Graham all but picked off an interception in Scotland’s riposte and Sam Johnson threatened on the break before ball was spilled forward.

Ritchie departed for a head injury assessment in the 12thminute as Scotland were awarded their first penalty, deep in their own territory, from which Hogg missed touch. Ritchie would not return.

Scotland retreated at a scrum at which they were penalised as Italy continued to assert their authority in the opening quarter. The immediate injury departure of Sutherland hinted that he had done himself mischief at that setpiece.

Soon after Garbisi landed his second penalty after a lineout offence to extend the hosts lead (6-0, 17 mins).

Discipline had been a huge feature of Scotland’s win against Wales in Llanelli last month and as the first quarter ended, Italy were ahead 7-1 on the penalty count, a worrying statistic.

Scotland eventually got a foothold in the home 22 from a Hogg penalty touchfinder. Cummings won the lineout but the driving maul was not constructed along usual lines. Another penalty and Jonny Gray, this time, pouched, Scotland got the maul going, then went through the phases before Ali Price unleashed Duhan Van Der Merwe with a sweet delayed pass. The winger crossed for his second try in his third cap. Duncan Weir converted (6-7, 24 mins).

Italy hit back almost at once. New cap Jacopo Trulla found space on the left and there was some glorious inter-passing from Marco Zanon, Marcello Violi and Mattia Bellini to enable Matteo Minozzi to scamper in for their first try. Garbisi missed the conversion (11-7, 27 mins).

Scotland conceded two turnover penalties though ended the half on the attack with Van Der Merwe and Hamish Watson shaping promisingly until a pass on the other flank ballooned into touch.

Half Time: Italy 11 Scotland 7

Ali Price’s receipt of the second half kick-off and cracking touchfinder was immediately negated by a dumb lineout penalty by the visitors on the ten-metre line which Garbisi landed majestically (14-7, 42 mins).

Scotland appeared to up the tempo and a slick inter-change involving Weir, Chris Harris and Johnson had Weir careering for the try line. However, TMO Wayne Barnes correctly ruled out the score as Johnson’s pass to his stand-off crept forward.

Scotland got their reward for an energised period just three minutes later. Van Der Merwe again was at the heart of it. Watson, who had made an equally dynamic start to the half, embellished and Zander Fagerson, momentarily confused as the ball had bobbled off an Italian forward, dotted down for the try, duly confirmed by the TMO. It was the prop’s second try for his country. Weir levelled with the conversion (14-14, 48 mins).

A brilliant turnover from Blade Thomson and some fabulous evasion from Graham almost created a third Scotland try, but a foot in touch saved Italy.

At the other end, Garbisi landed his third penalty – from an offside after Hogg had had to concede a five-metre scrum – to regain the home lead (17-14, 60 mins).

A counter ruck from Fagerson and a terrific steal from Watson won Scotland a penalty. Hogg opted for the touchline. Cummings won the lineout, George Turner exploded from the driving maul and after a couple of forward tilts, Price detonated Cummings on a thumping drive for his second try for Scotland. Weir converted (17-21, 68 mins).

Two penalties, one for scrum collapse, the other for maul collapse, set up Scotland with a close-range lineout. Cummings was the source again and Turner claimed Scotland’s fourth try of the day. It was his sixth for his country. Weir converted (17-28, 77 mins).

After a strong second half fightback Scotland left Florence with the spoils.

Full-time: Italy 17 Scotland 28

Italy: Matteo Minozzi; Jacopo Trulla, Marco Zanon, Carlo Canna, Mattia Bellini; Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi, CAPTAIN Giousue Zilocchi, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolo Cannone, Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Jake Polledri.

Subs: Leonardo Ghiraldini for Bigi (46 ins), Simone Ferrari for Fischetti (65 mins) Pietro Ceccarelli for Zilocchi (54 mins), Johan Meyer for Negri (47mins), Maxime Mbanda for Polledri (67 mins), Stephen Varney for Violi (54mins), Tomasso Allan for Minozzi (65 mins), Federico Mori for Zanon (54 mins)

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) CAPTAIN; Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan Van Der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); Duncan Weir (Worcester Warriors), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (both Edinburgh Rugby), Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings (both Glasgow Warriors), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson (both Edinburgh Rugby), Blade Thomson (Scarlets).

Subs: George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) for McInally (60 mins), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors) for Sutherland (15 mins), Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) for Fagerson ()65 mins), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs) for Haining (60 mins), Nick Haining (Edinburgh Rugby) for Ritchie (12 mins), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Exeter Chiefs) for Price (70 mins), James Lang (Harlequins) for Johnson (69 mins), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby) for Graham (65 mins)

Player of the Match: Duhan Van Der Merwe (Scotland).

Referee: Luke Pearce (England). Assistant referees: Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley (both England). TMO: Wayne Barnes (England).

live commentary 12:45 PM Saturday 14 Nov 2020

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