Chris Harris scored two tries as Scotland bounced back from successive defeats to record a bonus-point 33-22 win over Italy in Rome.
In a battle for The Cuttitta Cup, created in honour of former Italy captain and Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttitta, who passed away from Covid last year, the Scots showed their clinical edge in a relatively even first half.
Harris crossed twice before the break, with centre partner Sam Johnson having finished a brilliant counter-attack for the first try of the game.
Despite Callum Braley’s score, Scotland led 19-10 at the break, with Darcy Graham adding the fourth shortly after half-time.
Stuart Hogg was next to cross before Italian debutant Ange Capuozzo came off the bench for two tries on his first appearance.
But on a day where Italy were honouring their centurions prior to the game, they were just not clinical enough when they did have chances in the first half.
The home side enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, taking the lead from a Paolo Garbisi penalty after Scotland had strayed offside at a lineout after just four minutes.
Italy were dominating territory and it took two Matt Fagerson turnovers in his own 22 in the same passage of play to prevent further points.
Scotland had barely threatened, but with players like Hogg, the slightest opportunity is all they need. The Scotland skipper spotted the opportunity to run back a long clearing kick, racing from his 22 up towards halfway before firing the ball out to Graham. He then put George Turner away down the touchline, the hooker showing a fine turn of pace. Ali Price was on Turner’s shoulder and got into the 22, with Graham in support once more to pop it to Russell whose wide pass was gratefully accepted by Johnson in the right corner.
Russell missed the conversion but Scotland were 5-3 ahead after 18 minutes.
They had a second try three minutes later in what was one of the key passages of the game. After Russell had been picked off by Toa Halafihi with a dangerous pass in his own half, Italy worked their way up to the five-metre line and looked like they might score. Price took a chance by shooting out of the line and was rewarded as Braley threw a long pass that he was able to intercept. The scrum-half raced up to halfway, spread it wide to Kyle Steyn, and the winger then put a clever kick over the top for Harris to run onto. With the easy conversion, Scotland were 12-3 to the good.
The scoreline did not really do Italy justice, with Garbisi missing one penalty effort from long range. But they got the score their play deserved just before the half hour. It came as Pierre Bruno got away down the right after a set-play behind a scrum and he showed spectacular footwork to ride the final tackle from Hogg before offloading inside to Braley for the try. Garbisi converted from the touchline and Italy were back to within two points.
It was Scotland who had the final say of the half though, making the most of a scrum five metres out to go through the backs and find the hole in the Italian defence to put Harris in for his second. Russell converted and the visitors led 19-10 at the break.
SCOTLAND PULL CLEAR
Scotland made the perfect start to the second half, showing great patience to probe away at the Italian defence before a step from Russell opened up a half-gap and he offloaded to Graham, who beat the last man for the bonus-point score.
After Garbisi pulled a penalty attempt wide, it was Scotland who struck again. Price was enjoying a fine game, and after spotting a gap in the Italian defence, he scythed through before firing the pass out wide to Hogg to go over in the corner. Russell converted to make it 33-10.
Italy hit back with 15 minutes to go, debutant Capuozzo showing quick feet to evade two tackles and force his way over after collecting Edoardo Padovani’s offload. Garbisi converted from the touchline.
And they managed to get over again, with Capuozzo once again the man to get it as he danced through a couple of tackles to get over with the clock in the red.
With this win, Scotland will now head to Dublin looking to finish the Championship on a high, while Italy face a trip to Cardiff in Round 5.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
There was no question who the standout performer was on the day, with Ali Price rewarded by being named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match. The scrum-half played a key role in Sam Johnson’s opener, while his interception that set up Chris Harris for the second might have been a 14-point swing with Italy just five metres out.
He then set up Stuart Hogg’s try in the second half and overall enjoyed a fine outing.