SINGAPORE, Singapore, Jun 10 – Scotland kicked off their mid-year tour in grand style on Saturday, thumping an undisciplined Italy 34-13 at Singapore’s National Stadium in the team’s first outing under new coach Gregor Townsend.
After struggling to turn their early dominance into points, the Scots piled on four unanswered tries in a 15-minute blitz once their new combinations finally started to click and the Italians began to wilt in the sweltering humidity of Southeast Asia.
Scrumhalf Ali Price and winger Tim Visser both scored in the final few minutes before halftime to give Scotland a commanding 13-3 lead at the break.
Then hooker Ross Ford — who had scored just once in his previous 107 appearances for Scotland — crossed twice at the start of the second term to blow the margin out to 24 points.
“There’s still a few things to work on but we came here to win and that’s what we were working on during the week,” said Townsend.
“We got our rewards in the first half and played some good rugby in the second half.”
Italy, thrashed 29-0 by Scotland in this year’s Six Nations, were their own worst enemies at times, conceding a string of penalties through ill-discipline.
The Italians looked to be in danger of an even heavier loss after giving up four quick tries but finished the match strongly and were rewarded with two late consolation touchdowns against the run of play through outside centre Michele Campagnaro and wing Angelo Esposito.
But Scotland, who have been one of the most improved sides in international rugby in recent seasons, also scored a late try when winger Damien Hoyland crashed over out wide after Italy were reduced to 14 men when replacement Abraham Steyn was sin-binned for dangerous play.
– ‘Never gave up’ –
“We shot ourselves in the foot, we invited the pressure on ourselves,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea.
“You saw the pride the players have in their jersey… they never gave up.
“But we don’t want to make up the numbers. We want to look forward, we want to move forward and today out discipline was not good enough to allow us that opportunity.”
Scotland and Italy will now both travel south of the Equator for tests against Australia and Fiji over the next fortnight.
Already without three players on British and Irish Lions duties in New Zealand, as well as losing several others to injuries, Scotland suffered another setback just before the kick-off when openside flanker John Hardie injured his back in the warm-up and was forced to pull out, handing his starting spot to Ryan Wilson.
Ranked fifth in the world and against one of Italy’s youngest sides in recent seasons, the Scots took control from the outset but it wasn’t until just before halftime that the floodgates opened and they produced some impressive rugby.
Visser’s try on the stroke of halftime came off a clever chip kick from Scottish flyhalf Finn Russell while Ford’s second try was the best of the night when he finished off a series of intricate passes.
“I always thought it’ll be difficult to put in the rugby that we’d been training, that we’d aspired to play,” Townsend said.
“But I think it’s really good that the players believe in what they were doing and even though Italy came back in the game, they had some pressure but we worked hard.”