Scotland triumphed 28-17 following a fright at the hands of an inspired Italian team
Following on from their historic victory against Wales last month, Gregor Townsend’s men were keen to get their Autumn Nations Cup campaign off to a positive start. Their opening game was against Italy in Florence and would earn them a fifth win in a row, something they last managed back in 2011. Stuart McInally, Sam Johnson, Duncan Weir, and Duhan van Der Merwe were all added to the side for the trip to Florence, with five changes made to the bench.
Before the whistle blew for kick-off, it was clear that the Italian home intensity was out in full throttle. The Azzurri belted out their national anthem and quickly took the lead six minutes into the game. It was evident that the Italian side were seeking revenge after losing to the Scots 17-0 in Rome during the Six Nations and they quickly put Scotland to the sword. Italy stretched ahead with a Paolo Garbisi penalty when Blade Thomson infringed at the line-out, but this was the least of Scotland’s problems. Edinburgh’s Jamie Ritchie was soon off the pitch with a head injury, this was shortly followed by Rory Sutherland also having to exit the game with an injury. Scotland eventually bounced back when Duhan van Der Merwe motored over the line for his second Test try. Before the visitors could catch their breath, Italy resumed dominance and scored an excellent try of their own by Matteo Minozzi. The Scotland defence had been completely torn apart – an unlikely spectacle given it was one of the strongest facets of their game throughout the Six Nations. At half-time, the Italians were leading 11-7 after a highly motivated and ferocious 30 minutes.
After the break, Scotland took their time to find their groove against the home side with another Garbisi penalty extending the Italian lead to seven points. However, Scotland kept their cool and reestablished themselves through a try in rather bizarre circumstances when Hamish Watson fed Zander Fagerson the ball, it was at this point that most players, including the Scots, paused since they believed the game had stopped. Fagerson was similarly confused but eventually recognised a potential opportunity and flopped over the line. To the Italians’ surprise, the try was awarded and the subsequent conversion by Weir took Scotland level on the scoreboard. That was an easy seven points for the Scots, but it wasn’t long before Italy applied more pressure. The home team sent on reinforcements from the bench, and that gave them a brief morale boost, with Scotland captain Stuart Hogg at one point carrying the ball over his try-line. The Italians then went in front again with another three points from fly-half Garbisi after Scotland were penalised for being offside. A quarter of the game remained and the pivotal moment for the Scots occurred when replacement hooker George Turner broke off the lineout maul and took Scotland close. This created momentum for the Scots which culminated in scrum-half Ali Price feeding the ball to Scott Cummings for Scotland’s third try. But, Townsend’s men weren’t quite finished yet. Another powerful line-out drive culminated in Turner getting the ball down to secure a 28-17 bonus-point win. Huge credit must go to the Italians who outclassed the Scots in the first half, but the game was ultimately decided by the visitors’ superior fitness.
Scotland host France in their second game of the tournament next Sunday, which will ultimately be their toughest challenge yet. With lessons learned from last year’s World Cup debacle, head coach Gregor Townsend is slowly evolving his team into a more multifaceted unit.