Captain Greig Laidlaw kicked Scotland to a 36-20 victory over Italy in a ferocious Six Nations match in Rome on Saturday, their first victory in the tournament for two years.
Scotland flankers John Barclay and John Hardie both powered over the line in the early stages to give the visitors control of the match after nine successive Six Nations losses.
Italy struck back with a fine try by hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini following a charge from Gonzalo Garcia to cut the deficit to 17-10 at halftime.
Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell was sent to the sin bin and Italy lock Marco Fuser barrelled over the line but scrumhalf Laidlaw continued to punish Italian indiscipline with his reliable boot and Tommy Seymour’s late try sealed victory.
“It was great to get that victory,” Scotland hooker Ross Ford told ITV. “The boys dug in deep.
“It was close at times in the second half, we did give ourselves work to do, but that try at the end showed just if we stick to what we can do well we can create chances and score.”
The match was billed as the battle to avoid the wooden spoon and Scotland retained the intensity and organisation they showed in a narrow defeat by Wales to outclass their hosts in the opening stages.
They were unfazed when Kelly Haimona opened the scoring with an early penalty and fought back as Stuart Hogg broke down the right, drew two defenders and popped the ball for Barclay to open the try scoring in the tenth minute.
Hardie added a second in the corner seven minutes later and the unerring Laidlaw gaveScotland a 17-3 advantage after adding a 26th-minute penalty to his two previous conversions.
Injury-hit Italy responded with a try of their own with hooker Ghiraldini, returning to the side for his first international since the World Cup, scoring in the corner after delightful interplay.
Vern Cotter’s Scotland have failed to consolidate winning positions recently but they extended their control after the break when Laidlaw scored two more penalties either side of a successful Haimona kick.
Russell set up a nervy finale with his yellow card after spoiling in a ruck and Italy took advantage, scoring their second try through Fuser.
Italy’s comeback was halted with another Laidlaw penalty before Seymour’s late try guaranteed their first Six Nations victory since Feb. 2014.
“Sticking to what we know will do great for the boys,” said Ford. “Hopefully we’ll kick on from here.”