Blair Kinghorn’s hat-trick helped Scotland close out their 2023 Guinness Six Nations in style with a nerve-jangling 26-14 win over Italy at BT Murrayfield.
Scotland were coasting for much of the afternoon after tries from Kinghorn and a superb score from Duhan van der Merwe but they were under the pump for the final quarter as Italy threatened to steal the win.
A try from Tommaso Allan and a penalty from Paolo Garbisi had Italy just five points behind with ten minutes to go and they very nearly crossed for what could have been the game-clinching score.
But they could not quite get over the line and Scotland wrestled back possession before launching a stunning counter which finished with Kinghorn touching down under the posts.
The win all-but sealed a third-place finish for Scotland, their highest finish since 2018, while Italy finished bottom of the pile despite a set of strong performances.
SCOTLAND COAST IN FIRST 40
Scotland took a while to find their stride, with Italy striking first courtesy of an Allan penalty.
The full-back missed his first attempt, pulling the ball wide to the left from distance, but readjusted just four minutes later to hand the visitors the lead.
Italy had dominated the opening exchanges but their points seemed to spark Scotland into gear.
A flying Van der Merwe then brought BT Murrayfield to its feet with an extraordinary corner finish, grounding the ball while keeping the rest of his body contorted in the air under pressure from Garbisi.
The try was Van der Merwe’s 17th for Scotland, drawing him level with head coach Gregor Townsend and just ten behind record-scorer Stuart Hogg.
Deputising for the injured Finn Russell, Kinghorn assumed kicking duties and pulled his first shot of the afternoon wide of the upright.
Allan then kicked another three-pointer to restore Italy’s lead but that was to be their last foray forward for some time.
Back came Scotland and they were camped short of Italy’s line for what felt like an eternity.
A turnover seemed to provide an exit for Italy but the officials reversed the decision for a no arms tackle from Edoardo Iachizzi, who was forced to leave the field for a head injury assessment.
There was further movement on the replacements bench moments later. After a succession of scrum penalties against the Azzurri, Marco Riccioni was sent to the sin bin.
Scotland continued to apply pressure and finally found a way through Kinghorn, who used a brilliant dummy line from Sione Tuipulotu to burrow his way over and the fly-half added the extras to put his side six points in front.
A penalty against Scotland then eased the pressure and presented Italy with a rare attacking opportunity just before half time but an accidental offside let the hosts off the hook.
That looked to be it for the first half but Scotland opted against kicking the ball out with the clock in the red and were so nearly rewarded for their ambition.
Kyle Steyn was stopped just short before Italy recovered the ball and tapped it out to bring the half to a close at 12-6.
LATE DRAMA OUT OF NOWHERE
The second period began as the first had ended, with Scotland in the ascendancy and on this occasion they were able to turn pressure into points.
Kinghorn muscled his way over for a second time to stretch Scotland’s lead to 19-6 but they were unable to kill the game off.
The tempo slowed as the final game entered the final quarter with a few unforced errors from Scotland taking the life out of the BT Murrayfield crowd.
Silence then ensued when Garbisi put through a superb low grubber which Allan latched onto to give Italy hope.
The full-back missed the conversion but Garbisi was successful from tee just four minutes later to cut the deficit to five.
An air of nervousness then fostered inside BT Murrayfield and the closing stages were far more frantic than they perhaps needed to be.
A succession of penalties carried Italy to within inches of the line but the nerves got to them when it mattered most and with the whitewash in sight, a knock on handed possession back to Scotland when a score had seemed an eventuality.
That was not to be the end of the drama, with Scotland then going the length of the field for a bonus-point finale.
They burst out of the scrum before Van der Merwe harked down the left wing and passed inside to Kinghorn who just managed to evade the retreating defence to clinch a second career hat-trick against Italy and a third Championship win for Scotland.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
After an impressive display against Ireland in Round 4, Jack Dempsey was retained for the visit of Italy and again shone for Gregor Townsend’s side.
Dempsey may not have delivered a performance as eye-catching as that of hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn but he was superb in defence on a day when Scotland’s rear-guard was tested late on.
Scotland’s No.8 made 23 tackles, the most of any player from either side, and also made 80 metres from 13 carriers.
It was a fully authoritative display from Dempsey, who has given head coach Townsend serious food for thought when it comes to the make-up of his back row.