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Italy survive late onslaught to stun Scotland in Rome

By PA
Stephen Varney of Italy celebrates scoring his team's third try with teammate Danilo Fischetti during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Italy and Scotland at Stadio Olimpico on March 09, 2024 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images)

Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations campaign unravelled in disastrous fashion in Rome as they crashed to a first defeat against Italy since 2015.

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Gregor Townsend’s side looked set to tighten their grip on second place – and keep themselves on course for a first top-two finish this century – when they held 14-3 and 22-10 leads in the first half following tries from props Zander Fagerson and Pierre Schoeman either side of a score from Kyle Steyn.

However, the Scots completely lost their way after the interval as they fell to a 31-29 loss against an Italian side who – despite several encouraging displays that helped draw a capacity crowd to the Stadio Olimpico – had not won a Six Nations match since victory in Wales two years ago.

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This chastening defeat in the Eternal City is sure to crank up the heat on head coach Townsend five months after exiting the World Cup at the group-stage.

Italy got the chance to get the scoreboard ticking over just seconds into the match when Scotland were penalised on their own 22 immediately from the kick-off. Paolo Garbisi saw the ball fall off the tee while the clock was running but the fly-half kept his composure to re-tee and send his kick between the posts.

Match Summary

4
Penalty Goals
1
3
Tries
4
2
Conversions
3
0
Drop Goals
0
92
Carries
179
5
Line Breaks
6
11
Turnovers Lost
16
9
Turnovers Won
3

Scotland soon gained a foothold, however, and they got themselves in front in the sixth minute when Fagerson powered his way over from close range after a sustained spell of pressure inside the Italian 22. Finn Russell converted.

The visitors crossed the whitewash again five minutes later when they worked the ball out to the right and Blair Kinghorn fed Steyn, who bundled his way past two Italians to cross the line. Russell converted again.

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The Azzurri summoned a swift response as scrum-half Martin Page-Relo lobbed a clever kick over the top and centre Juan Ignacio Brex ran gleefully over just to the left of the posts in the 15th minute. Garbisi converted.

Shortly after Russell kicked a close-range penalty, Scotland scored their third try of the match in the 28th minute as Schoeman finished things off after being fed by George Turner in a driving maul. Russell’s conversion drifted wide.

Italy finished the first half strongly and reduced their interval deficit to 22-16 with a couple of penalties kicked by Garbisi and then Page-Relo, who was on target from close to the half-way line.

Scotland thought they had extended their advantage two minutes into the second period when scrum-half George Horne – on his first start since the 2019 World Cup – bolted over after excellent play by Huw Jones to release him but it was subsequently chalked off after Schoeman was adjudged to have committed a foul in the build-up.

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The prop’s needless indiscretion was to prove hugely pivotal. Just two minutes later, Italy closed to within a point when debutant Louis Lynagh – son of former Australia international Michael – ran on to Garbisi’s kick-through and darted over the line. Garbisi – with the chance to edge his team in front – saw his conversion attempt come back off the post.

The Scots found themselves in trouble in the 57th minute when the Italians got themselves in front as replacement scrum-half Stephen Varney found a gap between Andy Christie and Jack Dempsey to nudge his way over. This time Garbisi was on target.

Garbisi then scored a huge penalty from distance to put the hosts nine points ahead with seven minutes to play, placing the Scots in a state of desperation.

Replacement lock Sam Skinner – denied a match-winning try against France a month previously – pushed over with two minutes left and Russell converted to bring the Scots back to within two points and set up a tense finish.

Townsend’s team were unable to find another score, however, and – as the Azzurri celebrated a rare and deserved victory – the Scotland players slumped to their knees in abject despair as a campaign had that promised so much was reduced to rubble in Rome.

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