Italy stun Scotland to end 11-year Six Nations home drought

Scotland’s wing Duhan van der Merwe (C) is tackled during the Six Nations rugby union international match between Italy and Scotland at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, on March 9, 2024. AFP

Italy made history with their first Six Nations home win in 11 years on Saturday, beating Scotland 31-29 and handing Ireland the chance to win the championship with a match to spare.

Ireland will claim a second straight title if they draw against England later on Saturday thanks to the Italians winning a breathless match in which Juan Ignacio Brex, debutant Louis Lynagh and Stephen Varney all scored tries.

Further kicked points from Paolo Garbisi and Martin Page-Relo ensured a historic win for Gonzalo Quesada’s team who moved off the bottom of the table and up to fourth on seven points.

Italy had not won at home since beating Ireland in 2013 but came out on top in a match that will live long in the memory of the country’s long-suffering rugby fans, who roared with delight after a nail-biting finish.

“We talked a lot of times about the passion and I think we showed the world we have the passion in the last few minutes of the game – it is not a problem as it is in our blood,” said man of the match Brex.

“It means a lot for the movement of Italian rugby.”

Saturday’s win could be crucial for the battle to avoid a ninth straight wooden spoon as Wales, who are now in last place, face France in Cardiff on Sunday.

Italy also travel to Wales, where they last won a Six Nations match two years ago, in their final match next weekend.

Gregor Townsend’s Scotland meanwhile now have a fight on their hands to finish second in the Six Nations for the first time.

“We gave five or six penalties in a row and that gave Italy a massive opportunity to get back in the game,” said Townsend.

Scotland have not finished higher than third since winning the last Five Nations in 1999 and their hopes of ending this year’s edition in the top two have been damaged as both England and France can overtake them this weekend.

History made

Paolo Garbisi kicked Italy ahead almost immediately after kick-off but it was a short-lived lead as in the sixth minute Zander Ferguson ended a long spell of possession by forcing himself over the line for a converted try.

And six minutes later Kyle Steyn dotted down for Scotland’s second converted try as the away side came roaring out of the blocks.

Italy barely had a sight of Scotland’s 22-yard line in the opening minutes as they scrambled in vain to stop the Scots’ rampaging attack.

But on their first foray forward Brex pounced on Page-Relo’s beautifully placed kick to score the hosts’ first try of the day, one which was converted by Garbisi to cut the deficit to four points.

Finn Russell kicked Scotland seven ahead in the 25th minute and shortly afterwards Pierre Schoeman bundled Scotland to 22-10 with his fifth international try as Russell missed his first conversion of the championship wide of the posts.

Garbisi was more accurate to add six points to Italy’s tally and move his team to within a converted try of taking the lead at the break.

George Horn thought he had given Scotland a bonus point with a try in his first start since the 2019 World Cup seconds after the restart but it was chalked off.

That ended up being the turning point as Lynagh, the son of Australia legend Michale Lynagh, then brought Italy to within a point of Scotland with his first international try on his Test debut after collecting a sumptuous kick from Garbisi, who hit the post with his conversion in a reminder of his missed penalty against France.

But Stephen Varney forced over Italy’s third try of the day and Garbisi made up for his earlier miss by put Italy five points ahead.

And Garbisi gained full redemption for the France miss when he slotted a brilliant penalty to extend Italy’s lead to eight points which ended up winning his team the match.

Sam Skinner forced over a converted try with three minutes remaining, leaving Scotland needing just a penalty to win.

And the away side pushed hard but Italy hung on by their fingernails until a knock-on sparked a wave of relief and joy around a packed stadium.

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