Scotland's late surge floors Italy
MATCH REPORT: Scotland open their Nations Cup with a hard-fought 28-17 win over Italy on Saturday.
The Azzurri were on top for much of the contest thanks to Paolo Garbisi’s boot and Matteo Minozzi’s excellent first-half try.
But Scotland hit back with a second Test try for wing Duhan van der Merwe and rare score for prop Zander Fagerson, while Scott Cummings’ score with just 13 minutes to go proved decisive in Florence.
George Turner ensured there was no way back for Italy by dotting down off the back of a driving maul with three minutes left, setting up next week’s clash with France perfectly.
Perhaps Italy’s most famous victory came at Stadio Artemio Franchi, the venue for their epic win against South Africa in 2016, and, buoyed by that, they made a fast start here.
Garbisi scored a penalty after just five minutes, while they won a scrum penalty when defending inside their own 22.
Scotland lost prop, Rory Sutherland, to injury inside 16 minutes after he went down at a scrum and Italy stretched their lead with a second Garbisi penalty shortly after.
Italy then won a penalty at the breakdown from the resulting kick-off, as Scotland struggled to get anything going.
However, they scored their first try of the tournament from the back of a driving maul mid-way through the first half. A line-out at the Italy five-metre line was well collected by Jonny Gray and they moved it left where Ali Price fizzed a pass to winger Van der Merwe to score.
Duncan Weir’s conversion put Scotland 7-6 up but the Azzurri hit straight back with a stunning try, as Marco Zanon powered through two tackles and found Marcello Violi, who shifted it to Mattia Bellini and then the supporting Minozzi to score.
Italy continued to excel at the breakdown, with prop Danilo Fischetti winning back-to-back breakdown penalties inside his own 22 to help them preserve their 11-7 lead to half time.
That lead grew again minutes into the second half as the accurate Garbisi booted through his third penalty.
Scotland looked to have responded minutes later when Chris Harris and Sam Johnson combined to send Weir through to score, only for the TMO to take a look and deem the final pass forwards.
However, the visitors did breakthrough shortly after when Fagerson benefited from a fortunate ricochet and strolled in to score.
Scotland were on top but failed to take advantage due to some careless errors in possession, while Italy scored with their next attack as Garbisi added another penalty.
But they key moment came with 13 minutes left as Cummings muscled his way over from just a metre out following some sustained pressure in the 22.
Weir added the extras to make it 21-17 and Scotland controlled the clock from there before adding a late try from replacement Turner following a driving maul.
Man of the match: Making 143 metres from just eight carries, wing Duhan van der Merwe was immense throughout. The Edinburgh ace also grabbed his second try in just two Test matches with a predatory finish in the first half, and Italy struggled to contain him for the 80 minutes.
Pens: Garbisi 4
Tries: Van der Merwe, Fagerson, Cummings, Turner
Cons: Weir 4
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Jake Polledri, 7 Braam Steyn, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Niccolò Cannone, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Giosuè Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Simone Ferrari, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Johan Meyer, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Ali Price, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Nick Haining, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 James Lang, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson, Christophe Ridley
TMO: Wayne Barnes