Scotland’s Six Nations campaign stuttered to its conclusion with a disappointing performance in victory over Italy in Rome.
A try from Stuart Hogg with eight minutes to go helped Gregor Townsend’s side to their third win of the campaign, but it was far from perfect as the Italians produced their best performance of the championship, scoring three superb tries to take, at one stage, a 12-point lead.
Scotland, though, opened the scoring after weathering an early Italy storm, with Hamish Watson lasooing the ball wide to Fraser Brown, who went over in the corner.
Laidlaw missed the conversion, and Italy hit back when former Scotland U20 stand-off Tomasso Allan exploited a gap between Huw Jones and Willem Nel to cut through and touch down. He converted to put the Azzuri in front.
And Allan was instrumental once more as the Italians scored a second try on 15 minutes – his deft grubber found Stadio Olimpico grass and with not a Scotsman in sight, full-back Matteo Minozzi dived on it to score.
Allan added the extra two points for 14-5 before Scotland hit back with a try from skipper John Barclay – his second on as many visits to the Italian capital. He latched on to the back of a maul and powered his way over the line for a sixth international try.
Laidlaw’s conversion cut the gap to 17-12, and that’s how it remained until half-time.
HALF-TIME: Italy 17-12 Scotland
Gregor Townsend hooked the whole front row at the break after a below-par opening 40 minutes, but their arrivals did little to stem the Italian onslaught.
First, Conor O’Shea’s side were denied a try by the TMO, before Allan ghosted through for his second try of the game, latching on to a pass from the impressive Jake Polledri to touch down. He converted to extend the hosts’ lead to 24-12, spurring Townsend into three more changes – Richie Gray, Ali Price and Pete Horne on with Laidlaw now to stand-off as Russell left the field injured.
And the former skipper was at the heart of an outstanding score that brought Scotland back into the match.
With a Scotland maul powering towards the line before it was illegally halted, allowing Laidlaw to heave a pass wide to Sean Maitland, who scored his ninth Test try. Laidlaw converted.
And with eight minutes to go, another well worked move saw the match turn on its head, with Stuart Hogg going over out wide for Scotland’s fourth try. Laidlaw converted once more, the extra two points putting Scotland in front into the final stages.
The drama was far from over, though – the Italians won the restart ball and a penalty after Jonny Gray was penalised, allowing Allan to kick the home side into a one-point lead once more.
But the thousands of Scots in Rome breathed a huge sigh of relief with just 90 seconds left on the clock, when the Scottish forwards fashioned a penalty, and Laidlaw sealed a third Six Nations win of the season.
Less than convincing, to say the least, but Townsend will have been pleased to see his side come through with the win.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hard to pick out one Scotland player, they were largely out-played by their Italian counterparts. Pass marks for Barclay, Laidlaw and Maitland though. Man of the match goes to Jake Polledri for an outstanding first cap, but Scotland’s star man was Greig Laidlaw.