Scotland's fly-half Blair Kinghorn
Edinburgh (AFP) - Blair Kinghorn scored a hat-trick of tries as Scotland defeated Italy 26-14 at Murrayfield on Saturday after surviving an Azzurri fightback.
Victory on the last day of the tournament all but assured Scotland of a third-place finish after wins over England and Wales were followed by losses to title contenders France and Ireland.
Duhan van der Merwe’s stunning try and Kinghorn’s first of a fine treble left Scotland 12-6 ahead at half-time.
Kinghorn, only starting at fly-half because Scotland playmaker Finn Russell was injured, scored a second try soon after the interval.
But Tommaso Allan’s try and a Paolo Garbisi penalty left Italy just five points behind.
And they were still just a converted try away from winning the match when, having laid siege to Scotland’s line, they saw the hosts counter-attack with Kinghorn sprinting clear to complete his hat-trick.
Defeat meant a luckless Italy had lost all five of their matches this Six Nations, with the Azzurri having now won just one of their last 42 fixtures in the Championship.
“Italy have deserved more from this tournament, they’ve played a lot of good rugby and they put us under huge amounts of pressure,” Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie told the BBC. “I’m delighted we won that.”
Turning to Kinghorn, who scored 21 of Scotland’s 26 points, back-row Ritchie added: “Blair did really well… He’s been brilliant throughout the tournament.
“You’ve seen that when he’s come off the bench for us. He’s brought impact and tempo.”
- ‘Opportunities’ -
Italy coach Kieran Crowley
Italy coach Kieran Crowley summed up the match by saying: “Scotland finished their opportunities, we didn’t finish ours.”
The 61-year-old former New Zealand full-back added: “If you look at all five games, we’ve had opportunities but haven’t effected them. It’s something we can build on.”
Scotland, also without full-back Stuart Hogg because of injury, fell behind to a Tommaso Allan penalty after Italy squandered a potential try following Juan Ignacio Brex’s poor pass in front of Simone Gesi.
But Scotland hit back with a remarkable try in the 13th minute after Huw Jones’ pass released Van der Merwe .
The giant wing surged forward before leaping over the try-line and, while still airborne, grounding the ball before his feet crashed into touch.
Kinghorn could not convert the acrobatic try and Italy led 6-5 when Allan landed his second penalty soon afterwards.
But the match swung back in Scotland’s favour when Kinghorn, after a neat midfield move, scored their second try moments after Italy were reduced to 14 men when prop Danilo Fischetti was sin-binned.
Kinghorn converted and Scotland led 12-6 – the half-time score.
And that advantage was extended to 13 points early in the second half when Kinghorn, 26, touched down again.
Patient play by Scotland’s forwards sapped the energy out of Italy’s committed defence, with Kinghorn stretching over the line for a try he once more converted.
But from 19-6 behind, Italy rallied to set up a tense finish.
Azzurri fly-half Garbisi exploited the space behind Scotland wing Kyle Steyn with an excellent grubber kick that full-back Allan – the son of a Scottish father and Italian mother – chased down for an unconverted try.
But Garbisi’s penalty left Scotland just five points ahead with 10 minutes remaining only for Kinghorn to break Italian hearts before adding a conversion with the last kick of the game.