Blair Kinghorn scored a brilliant hat-trick as Scotland powered to a 33-20 win over Italy at BT Murrayfield to make the perfect start to the Guinness Six Nations.
On the day that Sergio Parisse broke the record for the most appearances in the Championship, overtaking Brian O’Driscoll with 66, it was a man who was just seven on the great Italian’s Guinness Six Nations bow who stole the show.
Kinghorn crossed twice in the first half, before completing his treble before the hour to seal maximum points for the Scots and extend their Championship winning streak at BT Murrayfield to seven games.
Stuart Hogg crossed early in the second half, while Chris Harris came off the bench to get their fifth, although Italy finished well with three late tries to carry some momentum into next week’s clash with Wales.
Scotland threatened early on, with Grant Gilchrist denied a try after just three minutes. From a rolling maul, the second row got over the line, but after consultation with the TMO, there was a clear double movement and Italy earned the penalty.
Up the other end Jamie Ritchie was penalised for a dangerous tackle on Parisse, with Tommaso Allan making no mistake to give the visitors the lead.
Their advantage lasted barely two minutes, some clever play from Greig Laidlaw earning a turnover to give the Scots possession 30 metres out.
The ball was quickly shifted to Finn Russell who spotted space on the left and played a pinpoint cross-kick to Kinghorn, who collected before racing over.
He had his second on 20 minutes following a scrum five metres from the line. Initially shaping to go to the right, Laidlaw then switched play, with Russell and Hogg combining to draw in the defence before Kinghorn collected a bouncing ball to dive gleefully over for his second.
That would prove to be the final score of the half, with the Scots 12-3 to the good in what had been a hard-fought half.
Italy needed to start the second half quickly, but instead the Scots won the ball from the restart and were able to dominate possession and territory.
While the Italian defence held initially, eventually the Scots found the way through. Russell’s boot set it up once more, a little grubber through with Stuart Hogg quickest to graze the ball down. Laidlaw’s conversion made it 19-3 and effectively sealed the result.
Scotland needed one more for the bonus point, and Kinghorn provided it with his hat-trick score. After a great break by Jamie Ritchie, Scotland kept the ball alive with an offload to Laidlaw and then a powerful run through by Kinghorn. Laidlaw converted once more.
Gregor Townsend then rang the changes, and they paid dividends immediately as Harris crossed for his first Test try. It came from a searing Hogg break, and a phase later Russell’s delayed pass put Josh Strauss into space, and he in turn fed Harris for the easy finish. With Laidlaw off, Russell took over kicking duties and converted.
Italy had struggled to create a huge amount, but they finished strongly, starting to put Scotland under real pressure. After a succession of penalties close to the line, Simon Berghan was sin-binned and the Azzurri took immediate advantage.
Taking the quick tap penalty, Guglielmo Palazzani, only starting because of Tito Tebaldi’s late withdrawal, gave his forwards a chance to hammer away before sneaking over himself.
Allan’s conversion made it 33-10, before Hogg saw a sixth Scotland try ruled out for an obstruction that had allowed him to slice through once more.
Instead it was Italy who came back, with some slick handling ending with Federico Ruzza putting Edoardo Padovani over.
Ruzza was key once again for the third Italian try, picking and going after a ruck before offloading to Michele Campagnaro, who played the two-on-one perfectly to send Angelo Esposito over.
They tried to grab a fourth, that would have been worth two bonus points, but the Scots turned the ball over to seal the win.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said: “I thought we started really well, played with energy. I think in the first two minutes we had ball in play and almost scored a try, got one disallowed.
“Italy had their moments in the first-half and I felt we needed more, could’ve upped the pace at times – and we did that at the beginning of the second-half.
“That really got us on the scoreboard and showed that if we work hard we can make the most of the ball we have. The last ten minutes was disappointing, obviously the yellow-card had a bearing on that, and Italy running the ball well. We’ve got a few areas to improve, but overall, we’re very pleased.”
Italy captain Sergio Parisse: “If we had the possession we are dangerous; we can score tries. I think Scotland deserved the win; they dominated the game, had a lot of possession – more than us – so of course the last ten minutes is a good base to work on for the game next week against Wales.
“It’s a very good personal achievement, but now I’m just trying to go forward and enjoy this tournament and give my best. Now I’m a little bit frustrated about this defeat, but every time you keep working and keep positive, so for me it’s important to think about the next game against Wales.”
The 22-year-old Edinburgh youngster is a full-back by trade, but with Stuart Hogg for a teammate, he has been used on the wing, and he flourished in Edinburgh. Taking advantage of the space afforded to him in the first half, he was in support twice to dot down before the break. And he completed his hat-trick early in the second half following a good Jamie Ritchie break.
If Italy were going to mount a comeback, they needed to score first in the second half. Instead it was the Scots who recovered the ball from the restart, giving them great field position. From there they piled on the pressure, with Finn Russell’s delightful grubber through bouncing up for Stuart Hogg to dot down under pressure from Angelo Esposito.