Scotland 29-0 Italy
Vern Cotter’s Murrayfield reign ended on a high as he signed off as Scotland head coach with a comfortable 29-0 win over Italy.
Tries from Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour mean the Dark Blues finish an RBS 6 Nations campaign with three wins for the first time since 2006.
They were waiting anxiously to see if results in Saturday’s two remaining clashes allowed them to claim second place and their best result since winning the final edition of the Five Nations back in 1999.
But going by the ovation Cotter received as he strode on to the pitch at full-time, there is no doubting the debt of gratitude owed to the Kiwi – who will be replaced by Glasgow’s Gregor Townsend this summer.
He took over a side so short on confidence that they suffered a whitewash during his first championship.
But his third and final campaign has seen the team rack up wins over Ireland, Wales and now the Azzurri, with 14 tries scored in the process. They were at one point before their record-equalling 40-point loss to England last week ranked the fourth best team in the world.
His team were determined to ensure the curtain came down on his final act to the sound of applause, but Scotland found things tough going in the early stages.
A huge shunt from the home pack ensured Cotter’s men put the first points on the board just four minutes in as full-back Stuart Hogg thumped the scrum penalty over from 40-plus metres out.
But Italy knew the danger of allowing Scotland to get up and running and did their best to drag their hosts into a set-piece squabble.
Their stodgy tactics proved effective for a spell, as they pilfered possession at both the breakdown and from the line-out.
The Scots were struggling for answers and got lucky when Tommaso Benvenuti’s charge-down on a Hogg kick bounced clear of the chasing Azzurri ranks into touch.
The fact Carlo Canna seemed to be wearing steel-toed boots as he missed two early penalties was another blessing.
But eventually the Dark Blues found their rhythm.
Visser should have finished off after Russell dropped a cross-field kick down on top of him in the corner, but the wing let the ball spill from his grasp before he could dot down.
However, the gaps continued to open as Alex Dunbar drove Scotland within striking range. Russell arrived with perfect timing to collect Ali Price’s pop pass, with the stand-off squeezing through for the opening touchdown after 28 minutes before adding the conversion himself.
By now Scotland were starting to find the space they thrive on and they scored again two minutes before the interval.
The move started as Russell almost wriggled over for a second. When he was held up an inch short, Price came up with a clever little box kick into the corner where Scott provided the finishing touch after the ball bounced off Gio Venditti’s hand as he challenged Hogg.
Russell’s conversion squirmed wide but the Scots were exactly where they wanted to be at the break – especially as Canna’s shooting boots failed him again on the stroke of half-time.
Italy should have pulled at least five points back as the action resumed but were denied by some barely-believable defence. First the Scots stood firm to see off drive after drive. When the visitors whipped the ball wide to Angelo Esposito in acres of space, it appeared they were on for a simple finish but Hogg and Scott appeared almost from nowhere to hold the wing up.
Yet referee Pascal Gauzere’s patience with some of the dubious Scottish tactics at the breakdown was growing thin and he flashed yellow at skipper John Barclay.
With a man advantage, Italy worked another opening for Esposito but again Hogg refused to be beaten as he produced his second try-saving tackle in as many minutes.
With those chances wasted, Azzurri spirits began to sag and the Scots took advantage to add a third try after 62 minutes. Hogg slipped a grubber in behind the visiting defence for Russell and Visser to chase, with the flying Dutchman winning the race to apply the all-important downward pressure. Russell played his part with the conversion, however.
Knowing a bonus point was required to keep alive hopes of finishing as runners-up, Scotland turned up the heat as they went in search of their fourth try.
And they got it with eight minutes to spare as Russell and Hogg combined to find Seymour running free in the wide channel, with the wing cantering in to the delight of the Murrayfield support.