Scotland claimed their first victory of this year’s Six Nations Championship as they saw off Italy 36-20 at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Tries from back-row duo John Barclay and John Hardie along with a late effort from wing Tommy Seymour saw the Scots come out on top.
But it was the boot of captain Greig Laidlaw that proved decisive as his 21 points from the tee saw him pick up the Man of the Match award.
As for Italy they now have three losses to their name, with their tries coming through hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini and second-row Marco Fuser.
Scotland were 17-10 ahead at the turnaround but in truth the margin should have been greater as they had multiple opportunities to pull clear.
Losing number eight David Denton to injury before kick-off meant a reshuffle for the Scots as Ryan Wilson moved up from the bench while Josh Strauss was called into the 23, despite having played 75 minutes for PRO12 outfit Glasgow Warriors against the Dragons on Thursday.
The late disruption to their starting line-up did not affect Scotland though as after a ninth minute penalty from Italy fly-half Kelly Haimona, the visitors moved through the gears with two tries in six minutes that made it 14-3.
Barclay scored the first effort when full-back Stuart Hogg’s break down the left wing led to the flanker collecting the offload for the score. Captain Laidlaw landed the difficult extras in what turned out to be an impressive day at the office off the tee for the number nine.
Laidlaw would convert Hardie’s effort soon after, this time after fly-half Finn Russell split the Azzurri’s midfield defence. It was now 17-3.
Italy though struck back on the half-hour through Ghiraldini after nice offloading between centre Gonzalo Garcia and full-back David Odiete, with Haimona on target from wide out before a 40th minute penalty miss from Laidlaw meant the margin was just seven points at half-time.
Scotland returned from the break and duly fed off Italy’s indiscretions, with Laidlaw in excellent form off the tee, starting on 46 minutes.
Italy hit back four minutes later following pressure on the Scottish line but again their discipline then let them down so it was 23-13, with Laidlaw adding his fourth penalty of the game just before the hour, meaning that Scotland had a 13-point cushion for the run-in.
That didn’t last long, however, as the Italians capitalised on fly-half Russell’s yellow card for hands in the ruck and went for the corner. Their gamble paid off as Fuser managed to ground the ball over the whitewash, making it 26-20 to set up a grandstand finish in Rome.
Fortunately for Scotland their goalkicker could not miss and made it 29-20 soon after, which helped their fans breathe a little easier when Italy launched a period of promising, sustained pressure on the visitors try-line.
But Scotland survived and would also have a third try to their name before the final whistle as excellent work from Hogg set up Seymour, securing their first win of 2016, with Italy now staring the wooden spoon in the face.
Man of the match: It has to go to Greig Laidlaw. Brilliant from the kicking tee and a real leader on a superb day for the Scots. Every member of Scotland’s side did their job though in a real team performance.
Moment of the match: Let’s go for the John Hardie try in the first-half that made it 17-3. Keeping Italy at an arm’s length was always going to be crucial and so it proved as Scotland got the job done in Rome.
Villain of the match: Despite two yellow cards for Scottish players, there was nothing dirty to report in an enjoyable Six Nations fixture.
Tries: Ghiraldini, Fuser
Cons: Haimona 2
Pens: Haimona 2
Tries: Barclay, Hardie, Seymour
Cons: Laidlaw 3
Pens: Laidlaw 5
Yellow Cards: Russell, Nel
Italy: 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 Andrea Pratichetti
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Sean Lamont
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)