Six Nations

Laidlaw stars in Scotland win

Vern Cotter
Vern Cotter

Rome - Greig Laidlaw hit 21 points with the boot in a man-of-the-match performance as Scotland ended a nine-game winless streak in the Six Nations with a 36-20 win over Italy in Rome on Saturday.

After narrow defeats to England (15-9) and Wales (27-23), Scotland were under pressure to end their drought in a match billed as the wooden spoon decider.

A pair of tries courtesy of John Barcley and John Hardie had Scotland in the driving seat just after the quarter-hour and the visitors finished the opening period 17-10 to the good.

But in Italy's final tournament outing at the Stadio Olimpico, it took a determined defensive performance from the visitors as the Azzurri launched a comeback during a 10-minute period that saw Finn Russell sinbinned for hands in the ruck before Tommy Seymour ran in a late try at the death.

It has left Italy the likely recipients of the wooden spoon, won by Scotland last year after their shock defeat to Italy at Murrayfield.

Kelly Haimona, making his first start of the tournament in the absence of Carlo Canna, had the hosts 3-0 ahead with a 44-metre penalty in the early minutes but it seemed to only make the Scots more determined.

Vern Cotter's men replied with a series of surges that had Italy's defence on their toes across the 22-metre line, until Stuart Hogg breached the line thanks to some fancy footwork.

The fullback was up-ended, but Hogg's pass to Barcley allowed the back rower to run in unhindered with Laidlaw hitting a difficult conversion to calm the nerves of the sizeable Tartan army.

Italy were put to the test as Scotland launched wave after wave of attack on their way to a quickfire second try.

When Laidlaw took possession from the ruck, Russell broke the line with ball in hand before Hardie crossed over to give the visitors their second try on 16 minutes.

Laidlaw hit another tricky conversion from the left and then took Scotland's lead to 17-3 with a long-distance penalty after Edoardo Gori failed to roll away.

Scotland looked to be cruising but Italy stopped the rot when the enterprising Haimona offloaded to Leonardo Ghiraldini as he hit the turf yards from the tryline on the half hour.

Haimona converted the big Leicester hooker's try to reduce the arrears to seven points (10-17) at the interval, seconds before which Laidlaw spurned the chance for another three points with a missed penalty.

Laidlaw made amends from 30 metres out minutes after the restart after Italy had collapsed the scrum.

But Scotland endured a nervous few minutes as Italy, playing to advantage amid an impending penalty call, had the Scots' defence at their limit before fumbling the ball near the tryline.

From only a few metres out, Haimona hit his second penalty to reduce arrears to 13-20.

Hopes of an Italian revival were kept in check by Laidlaw's third penalty eight minutes after the restart.

Italy could have turned the game around soon after Seymour came down hard from a mid-air challenge with Haimona.

Michele Campagnaro launched the charge down the left but Gori fumbled a pass as he crossed into the 22.

Italy changed their entire front row, veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni claiming his 118th cap in the process to keep pace with captain Sergio Parisse.

It proved a judicious move by Brunel, who saw his men push hard to capitalise on Russell's yellow card.

Marco Fuser eventually bundled over for Italy's second try, given after video analysis, with Haimona hitting the conversion to reduce the arrears to six points.

Laidlaw restored faith with his fifth penalty but the visitors endured a nervous period of Italian pressure as Russell paid the price.

Scotland won a penalty minutes later which allowed them to boot upfield and the ball stayed there for the remainder until Seymour sneaked in at the right corner from Stuart Hogg's offload to wrap up an encouraging win.

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