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Scotland v Italy

Scotland achieved their highest score against Italy and posted their biggest winning margin against the Azzurri as they ran in eight tries in the sunshine at BT Murrayfield this afternoon.

The result lifted Scotland into second place in the GUINNESS Six Nations Championship, with a very healthy 15 tries to their credit, before today’s later clashes between Ireland and England and France and Wales and set them up for Friday evening’s trip to Paris to face the French in their final game.

It was hard to assess just how good a performance it had been by Scotland given the current woes of the Italian team, compounded by three yellow cards today, but, in many respects, it proved that the optimism that had so rightly imbued home supporters after last month’s Calcutta Cup victory had not been entirely ill-founded.

It also underlined the “small margins” which had been in play, especially against Wales, who face a Grand Slam chance tonight.

Scotland scored four tries in each half. Braces from Dave Cherry and Duhan van der Merwe alongside scores from Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Scott Steele and Sam Johnson.

For Scotland, a Championship campaign that had opened with such elan, courtesy of the historic triumph at Twickenham, had been dented by the narrow losses to Wales and Ireland at BT Murrayfield.

Yet Italy, who had conceded 187 points going into this afternoon’s match, had lost 30 successive games in the competition, in which their last win was in Vern Cotter’s first Six Nations season with Scotland in 2015.

Scotland kicked off through captain Stuart Hogg in the unfamiliar number 10 jersey towards the railway end of the ground. Juan Ignacio Brex caught, and Italy found a clearance kick just inside their own half.

After Scotland’s lineout miseries against the Irish, Dave Cherry’s first dart was on the money, a long throw to Sam Johnson, but a knock-on set up the first scrum at which Zander Fagerson, on his return from the red card against Wales, was pinged for going to deck.

Italy missed their touchfinder, but they countered boldly off Sean Maitland’s clearance, taking a quick lineout and giving ball width before Stuart Hogg had to scamper to collect.

Another Italian penalty saw Paolo Garbisi find a sweet touch and from a lineout take by Federico Ruzza, Italy drove and their captain Luca Bigi, spun off the advancing platform, to dot down in the corner. Garbisi converted (0-7, 6 mins).

In Scotland’s response, an offside offence by the visitors saw Hogg fire his side to a five-metre lineout. Grant Gilchrist was the target, and the subsequent drive was thwarted illegally.

Take two. Hogg again did the first part. Sam Skinner won the lineout, and, from the drive, Cherry surged over for the try, his first for Scotland. Hogg missed the conversion (5-7, 11 minutes).

Scotland’s torpor was hopefully now eradicated. An impression confirmed as Jones blazed from his own 22 on the break, Hamish Watson and Gilchrist carried purposefully, Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland then made further dents before ball was shifted left via Hogg and Johnson for Watson to send in Duhan Van Der Merwe for his fifth try for Scotland and second against Italy after his score in the Autumn Nations Cup in Florence last year. Hogg converted. (12-7, 13 mins).

Garbisi landed a penalty as the game continued to fizz, yet Scotland were soon back on the attack, Sam Skinner demolishing the would be tackle of Stephen Varney in one romp from the big lock up the West Stand touchline.

Just before the quarter hour, Italian centre Federico Mori was yellow carded for a no-arms hit on Johnson.

Scotland opted for the touchline through Hogg from the penalty. Jamie Ritchie was the recipient this time and Scotland soon released their backs. A few phases later, Maitland evaded one tackle in midfield, Jones surged in support and off-loaded perfectly for Darcy Graham to score his ninth try for his country. Hogg missed the conversion (17-10, 22 mins).

There was a hint of a Barbarians match as Cherry took a return ball from a lineout and thundered up the touchline, but Scotland still could not neglect the hard yards, as a thumping tackle by Montana Ioane on Graham underlined.

Graham recovered and was immediately targeted with an open field kick. He showed his mettle and Scotland sparked in counter-attack. Hogg, Jones and Van Der Merwe combined slickly up the left and after everyone’s favourite monster truck had careered on, Hogg with lovely soft hands linked again to send Jones sprinting clear. It was his 12thtry for Scotland and was a beauty. Hogg converted, the bonus point score (24-10, 28 mins).

The half continued in much the same vein and though Italy had a chance to repeat their earlier driving maul try from a close-range lineout just before the break, Scotland’s defence was this time resolute.

Half-time: Scotland 24 Italy 10

Italy could not have made a poorer start to the second half. The restart kick went out on the full and from the scrum back at half-way, they conceded a penalty to the advancing Scotland eight.

From the lineout on the 22, Johnson pouched the long throw and Scotland went through the phases – with a breakthrough looking unlikely – until another Italian offence enabled Hogg to set up another lineout platform.

Gilchrist gathered, his pack marauded forward and Cherry was there to round it off for his second try of the day. Hogg struck a glorious conversion from the East Stand touchline (31-10, 45 mins).

Scotland resumed on the attack and Italy lost Sebastian Negri to the sin-bin for an offence in his own 22. From the subsequent scrum, Johnson again looked animated and ultimately Scott Steele marked his first start for Scotland with a classic scrum-half snipe try. Hogg converted (38-10, 52 mins).

Both sides went to their bench, but trouble multiplied for Italy as Ioane was yellow carded on the hour for a tackle on Hogg, thus they were briefly reduced to 13 men, before Negri returned.

Alex Craig, a product of the Stewartry club, joined the action to win his first cap. He is Scotland cap number 1116.

An extravagant through the legs pass from Hogg seemed to have set Van Der Merwe up for his second score but the Italian defence did well to hold him up over the goal line.

Scotland’s seventh try was not long delayed however, as from a tap penalty Johnson’s sublime line was rewarded. It was the centre’s fourth try for Scotland. Hogg, who had returned to full-back with Van der Walt introduced off the bench, converted (45-10, 65 mins).

Italy, visibly tiring now, were soon reflecting on Scotland’s highest score against them as Ali Price off-loaded adroitly to send Van Der Merwe in for his second try of the day. Hogg converted (52-10, 72 mins).

Full-time: Scotland 52 Italy 10


Scotland: Sean Maitland (Saracens); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), Huw Jones, Sam Johnson (both Glasgow Warriors), Duhan Van Der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs CAPTAIN, Scott Steele (Dumfries); Rory Sutherland, David Cherry (both Edinburgh Rugby), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson (all Edinburgh Rugby), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).

Subs: George Turner (Glasgow Warriors) for Cherry (48 mins), Jamie Bhatti (Bath Rugby) for Sutherland (48 mins), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) for Zander Fagerson (48 mins), Alex Craig (Gloucester) for Gilchrist (61 mins), Nick Haining (Edinburgh Rugby) for Watson (65 mins), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) for Steele (54mins), Jaco Van Der Walt (Edinburgh Rugby) for Maitland (54 mins), Chris Harris (Gloucester) for Johnson (65 mins)

Italy: Edoardo Padovani; Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Federico Mori, Montana Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi CAPTAIN, Marco Riccioni, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Johan Meyer, Michele Lamaro.

Subs: Gianmarco Lucchesi for Bigi (70 mins), Andrea Lovotti for Fischetti (70 mins), Giosuè Zilocchi for Riccioni (26 mins), Riccardo Favretto, for Meyer (75 mins) Maxime Mbanda for Ruzza (61 mins), Marcello Violi for Varney (70 mins)., Carlo Canna for Garbisi (53 mins), Marco Zanon for Mori (53 mins)

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France). Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England) and Ben Whitehouse (Wales). TMO: Alexandre Ruiz (France).

GUINNESS Six Nations Player of the Match: Hamish Watson (Scotland)

live commentary 2:15 PM Saturday 20 Mar 2021

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Kick-off 2:15 PM

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