Duncan Weir’s last-gasp drop goal silenced the Stadio Olimpico and earned Scotland a dramatic victory in the contest to avoid the Six Nations wooden spoon.
Tries from Tommy Allan and Joshua Furno looked to have put Italy on course for their first win in this season’s tournament but, 10 seconds from the final whistle, the fly-half split the uprights from 40 yards to the delight of Scott Johnson, their under-fire coach.
“I was really happy for him,” said the Australian. “Because his is in a position that carries a lot of responsibility. I seen some growth in the lad and I am so pleased.”
Prior to Weir’s moment of magic, Scotland had conjured up their first tries of the Championship through Alex Dunbar’s impressive double yet their defence failed miserably to keep a confident Italy side at bay.
Scotland had touched down in Rome in desperate need of a win after the 20-0 home defeat by England a fortnight ago. The visitors showed a hunger to attack in the opening stages but they got lucky after 13 minutes when Allan, a Scot playing for the opposition by virtue of his Italian mother, knocked the ball on just as he was about to finish off the home side’s first real attack.
But the Perpignan back was still able to put his side ahead as he successfully kicked a penalty awarded for an earlier infringement.
Greig Laidlaw put Scotland on the scoreboard as he tucked away a penalty of his own before Allan restored Italy’s three-point lead.
Scotland tried to be positive but their decision-making was once again their weak point, as the ball was often handed back to the hosts just as anything meaningful was brewing. The opposite was true of Italy as they opened Scotland up before Allan crashed through two weak tackles to score his second try for Italy, before converting himself.
Despite that setback, Johnson’s side made a confident start to the second period, trimming the Italians back by three points as Laidlaw fired over a 35-yard penalty.
They wasted a chance to cut the deficit further when Laidlaw opted against kicking an easy penalty in favour of a surprise tap-and-go, only to see Matt Scott slip just as he played in the centre.
But then, after 54 minutes, the visitors’ long wait for their first try of the tournament was ended. From a ruck, Scotland worked the ball through Scott, then Stuart Hogg and finally Dunbar, who drove between two Italian defenders before going over in the corner. They still trailed though after Laidlaw failed with his conversion attempt from wide on the right.
But in the 68th minute that changed as Dunbar scored his second try. Sean Lamont burst past Allan before passing to replacement scrum-half Chris Cusiter who shunted on for Dunbar to sprint home from 25 yards out, ignoring support runner Scott.
Weir took over the kicking duties with Laidlaw off and added the extra two points to put Scotland seemingly on course for victory.
But their carelessness looked like it had come back to haunt them as Sergio Parisse was allowed to play in Furno to level before Luciano Orquera restored Italy’s lead with the conversion.
It left the home crowd preparing to celebrate a rare Six Nations scalp until Weir’s decisive intervention. “It’s the first time I have dropped a goal for Scotland and it has never been more important,” he said. “I am absolutely delighted. I am just so thankful it went over.”
Italy: L McLean; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, L Sarto; T Allan (L Orquera, 68), E Gori (T Botes, 63); A De Marchi (M Aguero, 57), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon, 57), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini, 57), Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, A Zanni (M Bortolami, 73),R Barbieri (P Derbyshire, 63), S Parisse.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour (M Evans, 55), A Dunbar (D Taylor, 72), M Scott, S Lamont, D Weir, G Laidlaw (C Cusiter, 63), R Grant (A Dickinson, 58), S Lawson, M Low (G Cross, 38), R Gray, J Hamilton, R Wilson, C Fusaro, J Beattie.
Referee: S Walsh (Australia)