Scotland Italy Six Nations Rugby.
Scotland's captain Jamie Ritchie, centre, lifts up a trophy at the end of Six Nations rugby union international match between Scotland and Italy, at the Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Saturday, March 18, 2023. Scotland beat Italy 26-14. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
rugby union

Scotland ends Six Nations on high after edging Italy


Scotland can crank up its Rugby World Cup preparations in good stead after edging Italy 26-14 to complete an uplifting Six Nations campaign on Saturday.

The Scots rebounded from consecutive losses to Ireland and France — Nos. 1 and 2 in the world — with a third win to prove they're the best of the rest in the tournament. They should place third for only the second time in a decade.

In contrast, there was more heartbreak for winless Italy, which has been a theme of the championship at the end of which it has finished last for an eighth straight year. Undergoing a competitive revival which had even Ireland and France in trouble late in their matches, the Italians had Scotland at their mercy in the dying moments and Murrayfield tensed up.

They trailed 19-14 and were hammering the Scottish tryline for the last few minutes until a knock on in front of the posts gave the ball back to Scotland.

Relief was palpable, but Scotland piled more misery on Italy by using the scrum ball to break out from behind its posts. Blair Kinghorn released wing Duhan van der Merwe, took the return pass inside Italy's half and zoomed away from three defenders.

Upon his hat-trick try, Kinghorn's teammates poured on top of him in delight as Murrayfield released the tension that had been building as Italy came back from 19-6 down.

“Bit scary towards the end there,” Scotland No. 8 Jack Dempsey said. “Credit to the front row with a big scrum to get us out of trouble. It was knee-shaking stuff.”

Coach Gregor Townsend's contract ends after the World Cup in October. He said “We'll see” when asked if this was his last Six Nations.

“I love days like today, even in the bad moments when you're under pressure," he said. "To be involved with your national team, there's nothing better.”

Scotland was without star backs Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg in a Six Nations match for the first time since 2019, and without its first-choice locks. It waived off penalty goalkicks in search of tries and was helped by Italy's enduringly frustrating ability to waste chances.

From turnover ball, Van der Merwe spectacularly planted the ball beside the left corner flag while airborne and pushed over the sideline by Paolo Garbisi.

A second Tommaso Allan penalty put Italy back in front, but then Scotland exposed a creaky Italy scrum. Referee Angus Gardner tired of penalizing Italy after the first three scrums and, after the fourth collapsed, sin-binned tighthead prop Marco Riccioni.

Scotland immediately pounced when Kinghorn scored off the next scrum and converted the try.

Despite a man advantage for 10 more minutes and dominating territory and possession, Scotland couldn't score again before halftime in the face of Italy's gritty defense. In the half, Italy missed 23 tackles but made 117.

The massive effort appeared to have drained Italy when, straight after halftime, Scotland built 10 phases and Kinghorn crossed over between two defenders.

At 19-6 up, Scotland seemed to be on its way. But Italy finally began sticking passes and catches and managing the game better.

An Allan try from a Garbisi grubber and a Garbisi penalty got them to within five and put the result in doubt.

Up stepped Kinghorn, who secured the win and tries bonus point with his second test hat trick, the other also against Italy in 2019.

“Before the tournament, I said (I wanted) five good performances; we got four and a half,” Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie said. “Today was a tough one, it was a solid performance. We dug it out.”

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