STUART HOGG’S wonder try on 22 minutes was undoubtedly the highlight of this stodgy contest between two teams who appeared more concerned about avoiding defeat rather than securing the win. We should not be too critical of the away team, however, because they were under a huge amount of pressure going into this match, and any away win when the opposition have been held to zero is worthy of a nod of approval.

Scotland can now look forward to their fourth and penultimate championship match against France at Murrayfield in two weeks’ time with bolstered confidence, although they will be acutely aware that they will have to be much more focused and accurate with ball in hand if they are to get a positive result against Les Bleus.

After Scotland’s World Cup flop, the controversial walk-out of Finn Russell and defeats to Ireland and England in rounds one and two, this was generally viewed as a make-or-break match for head coach Gregor Townsend. His position is secure, for now, but the sense that the team is struggling to tread water on his watch remains and the trials and tribulations of Adam Hastings – the man who has inherited Russell’s No.10 shirt – will have done nothing to dissipate the anxiety widely felt about such a precocious attacking talent being stuck in exile.

Scotland threatened early on when a line-out over the top to Sam Johnson allowed the centre to intrude into Italy’s 22, but in now familiar fashion the boys in blue failed to turn territorial advantage into points, going through several tight phases before a knock-on by Magnus Bradbury stalled the move. It got worse because Scotland won a penalty at the scrum only for Hastings to fluff the simple kick at goal from directly in front of the posts.

Hastings missed touch a few minutes later, then gifted Italy possession with a thoughtless dink over the top which was gathered by Mattia Bellini, who then launched a sweeping Italian attack which required a last-ditch intervention from Hogg as Jayden Hayward surged towards the line.

Italy spent the next 10 minutes on the front foot, but a combination of home inaccuracy and stuffy away defence meant that there were no clear-cut scoring opportunities, and it was Scotland who snatched the lead on 22 minutes with a flash of brilliance from their captain.

When a weak Italian clearance went straight to Jamie Ritchie, who fed back inside to the full-back via Hastings, on came the afterburners and Sebastian Negri, Luca Morisi and Hayward were all left floundering in his wake as Hogg weaved his way to the try-line from 60 metres out.

Ali Price thought he had extended Scotland’s lead seven minutes later, but a referral to the TMO identified that Hamish Watson’s offload to Sam Johnson during the build-up had been a mile forward.

Italy fought their way back into the game and had Scotland really stretched in the 36th minute, before an excellent rip by Chris Harris robbed Matteo Minozzi of possession at a crucial moment. A few minutes later, Magnus Bradbury was penalised for not rolling way, and the Scots were fortunate that Tommaso Allan’s long-range shot at goal hit the post.

Scotland almost got off to a perfect start to the second half when Price sent Watson through a gap in Italy’s fringe defence, who then fed Bradbury to thunder to within inches of the line before offloading out the tackle to Ritchie, but the all-action flanker couldn’t quite gather with the line at his mercy.

Unperturbed, the visitors kept plugging away, and after 17 tight phases the ball was fired out to Harris, who powered between two Jake Polledri and Minozzi on his way to the line.

A few minutes later, Hastings swept through a gap in midfield and charged into the Italian 22, but he had support, and when his speculative offload was hoovered it was the cue for the action to sweep to the other end of the park through Hayward and Minozzi, but Bradbury saved the day with a turnover 10 yards from the line.

Scotland were soon on the attack again when Kinghorn scooped up a loose ball wide on the left and fed Harris, who looked like he might go the distance himself but chose to flip the ball back inside to George Horne, and the scrum-half couldn’t quite shake the Italian cover. Possession was recycled, and Hogg was soon threatening on opposite side of the park, although the full-back should maybe have looked to use the two men outside rather than go it alone – Sean Maitland certainly thought so and made his thoughts clear.

Townsend began to clear his bench, and it seemed to have a disruptive effect in whatever flow the team had been beginning to get into. Hastings continued to struggle to find grass with his kicking game and was caught behind the gain line on a couple of occasions, but he wasn’t the only player having a frustrating afternoon.

Italian replacement hooker Federico Zani was sent to the sin-bin for tipping Grant Gilchrist past the horizontal as they struggled to get over the tackle area, but still Scotland struggled to really impose themselves with any sort of consistency – but they did finish with a flourish when Gilchrist did brilliantly to snaffle the ball on the deck, and Hastings opportunistically broke down the short-side from the base of the subsequent ruck for an unchallenged 40-yard run-in.