DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
THEY got the job done in the end, with Blair Kinghorn streaking home for his hat-trick try in injury-time to secure the bonus point for Scotland, adding a gloss to the final score-line which the performance did not really deserve.
Assuming there isn’t major upset in Dublin this evening, Gregor Townsend‘s side will finish third in the table – which isn’t bad going given that the world’s top two ranked teams were both involved – but those heady days of early February when England and Wales were put to the sword seem a long time ago now.
Poor old Italy, they had their chances, and Scotland were on the rack at the end, but the Azzurri paid a heavy price for inaccuracies at key moments – not for the first time in this tournament.
Onwards and upwards for Scotland, with the next stop being four World Cup warm-up matches – against Italy (again), France (twice) and Georgia at the end of July and start of August – before the main event gets going in September. They have winning momentum but won ‘t feel this performance was much of a step in the right direction.
Scotland coughed up two ruck penalties in the middle of the park in the first five minutes. With the first, awarded against Duhan van der Merwe for holding on, Italy went for the posts, but Tommaso Allan pulled his effort to the left. With the second, against Pierre Schoeman for going off his feet, they went for a line-out which established field position from which Allan nudged the visitors into the lead following a George Turner offside penalty.
The Italians will be frustrated that they did come away from that period of pressure with seven points because a loose pass from Paolo Garbisi to Pierre Bruno killed a clear try-scoring opportunity.
Scotland struck back, with a period of pressure culminating in a spectacular finish from van der Merwe, who clattered the corner flag under pressure from Paolo Garbisi but managed to ground the ball before his body landed in touch. However, Blair Kinghorn pulled his conversion to the left of the posts, and Jack Dempsey then gave away a holding-on penalty at the restart allowing Allan to restore Italy’s lead.
The hosts spent the next 10 minutes camped in Italy’s 22 but couldn’t crack Italy’s heroic defence, until Marco Riccioni was sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a scrum. Winger Simone Gesi had to give ways so that replacement tight-head Pietro Ceccarelli could fill the front-row, creating a backline mismatch which Scotland took immediate advantage of, with Kinghorn ghosting through midfield to score in the very next play.
The hosts continued to dominate proceedings, but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard. They came close in the final play of the half, with the busy van der Merwe once again prominent, however Gesi managed to get a hand in the way of Kyle Steyn‘s final pass to Ollie Smith.
Scotland fired out the blocks after the break and after another long period of pressure on the Italian line they stretched further ahead when Kinghorn rode a double-tackle from Sebastian Negri and Juan Ignacio Brex to claim his second try of the match – but the hosts failed to kick on from there, and, in fact, played second fiddle for most of the rest of the game.
Italy had a chance when scrum-half Alessandro Fusco swept past Schoeman only to misjedge his pass to Gesi, but there was no mistake just after the hour mark when Paolo Garbisi prodded a neat diagonal grubber into the left corner for Allan to score.
Aschoolboy fumble from Sione Tuipulotu and a side entry penalty from Dempsey as he tried to tidy up the mess summed up the general tenor of Scotland’s lacklustre second half. Allan slotted the kick to make it a five point game with 15 minutes to go – which was just a bit too close for comfort.
An Ali Price interception and 45 yard streak downfield livened things up, but that opportunity – rather predictably – came to nothing, with Zander Fagerson penalised several phases later for going off his feet.
Then Scotland found themselves desperately defending their own line during the final five minutes, twice giving away offside penalties via Dempsey and Cameron Redpath, before the hosts caught a break when Giovanni Pettinelli knocked-on right under the home posts.
Playing a penalty advantage from the scrum, Price shipped the ball via Kinghorn to van der Merwe on the left wing, who rampaged all the way to halfway before offloading back inside for Kinghorn to finish off. It is the second-time he has scored a hat-trick against Italy, the previous occasion being 2019.
Scotland: O Smith (B Healy 67); K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu (C Redpath 67), D van der Merwe; B Kinghorn, B White (A Price 60); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 60), G Turner (E Ashman 50), Z Fagerson ( W Nel, 70), S Skinner, J Gray ( S Cummings 60), J Ritchie, H Watson (M Fagerson, 50), J Dempsey.
Italy: T Allan; P Bruno, J Brex, L Morisi (M Zanon 70), S Gesi (P Ceccarelli 28-39); P Garbisi, A Fusco (A Garbisi 50); D Fischetti (F Zani, 56), G Nicotera (M Manfredi 72), M Riccioni (P Ceccarelli 56-79), E Iachizzi (N Cannone 17-32, 46), F Ruzza, S Negri (M Zuliani 46), M Lamaro, L Cannone (G Pettinelli 60).
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Scotland: Tries: Van Der Merwe, Kinghorn 3; Con: Kinghorn 3
Italy: Try: Allan; Pen: Allan 3.
Scoring sequence: 0-3; 5-3; 5-6; 10-6; 12-6 (h-t) 17-6; 19-6; 19-11; 19-14; 24-14; 26-14
Yellow card –
Italy: Riccioni (28mins)