Scotland boss Gregor Townsend praised his side’s second half discipline as they were made to battle to victory over Italy 28-17 in their Autumn Nations Cup opener.
Despite the visitors carrying momentum into the contest thanks to their Guinness Six Nations win in Wales a fortnight ago, Italy were the dominant outfit in the first 40 minutes and led at the break after Matteo Minozzi’s try, coupled with six points from the impressive Paolo Garbisi, cancelled out Duhan van der Merwe’s score.
But, Scotland came out a rejuvenated side in the second half and scored three tries through Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings and George Turner to extend their winning run to five games – for the first time in nine years – and get their Autumn Nations Cup campaign off to the perfect start.
“Very similar to the games we’ve experienced out here before when it’s taken a while for us to wrest the momentum off Italy, but it was pleasing to see the second half performance,” Townsend said.
“We definitely stepped up a couple of levels. Probably the biggest improvement out of everything was the discipline.
“There was a 30-minute period in the second half where we didn’t give away a penalty which showed the players learned from what the referee wanted.”
Scotland came into the contest looking to build on their impressive end to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations but it was Franco Smith’s men that started the more impressive, taking a 6-0 lead before Van der Merwe sliced his way through the Italian defence to dot down for Scotland.
Almost straight from kick-off Italy hit back to take the lead into half-time, Minozzi finishing off a scintillating score that saw Marco Zanon barge his way through the Scotland defence before Mattia Bellini delivered a beautiful one-handed offload to Minozzi.
However, Scotland came back fighting in the second half as Fagerson benefitted from some good luck when the ball bounced off an Italian defender straight into his grateful arms to score.
Then, Cummings blasted over in the 67th minute and Turner claimed the bonus-point try with only minutes to go as Scotland were forced to work hard to win.
Try-scorer Van der Merwe enjoyed a strong game and revealed how captain Stuart Hogg fired his teammates up at half-time to spur them on to turn things around.
He said: “I love being part of this team.
“Hoggy [Stuart Hogg] just said to us [at half-time] we’re going to have to dig deep. We came out second half and said we were going to keep the ball, and we scored a couple of tries from it.”