IT is a sign of how far Scotland have progressed this year that they were under pressure for much of this opening Autumn Nations Cup match yet still ended up with a bonus-point win.

They were only ahead for a dozen minutes or so against opponents who were disciplined, dynamic and determined to create their own atmosphere in the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, but they finished well on top.

In years past, Scotland teams who have been up against it in Italy have either frozen and gone down to defeat, or somehow scraped through with a barely-deserved victory. But this team are more composed, more self-reliant, when things go wrong, and after falling seven points behind close to the start of the second half they steadily seized the initiative.

That makes it five wins in a row now, a sequence which began against Italy themselves in the Six Nations. They will equal their all-time best run of six if they beat France on Sunday.

That is a big if against a team who may well be the form side on the planet right now, and while the French have already come to Murrayfield and lost this year, Scotland know they will have to improve a couple of notches on this game to give themselves a real chance.

They certainly knew at half time in this match that they had to up their game. Not only did the Italians take an early 6-0 lead through two penalties from Paolo Garbisi, they had an alarming superiority in the scrum. Scotland’s cause was not helped by the first-quarter loss to injury of both Rory Sutherland and Jamie Ritchie, and it was a sign of the home team’s superiority at that stage that it took the visitors nearly 25 minutes to mount their first real attack.

When they did, however, they made it count. Captain Stuart Hogg twice opted to send kickable penalties to touch, and at the second time of asking a sustained assault on the Italian goal line ended with Duhan van der Merwe crossing from an Ali Price pass. Duncan Weir converted, as he would do with the following three tries, to put his team in front.

The lead lasted only a minute, as Italy hit back with an excellent passing move, created by a Marco Zanon line break which saw him crash through a Weir tackle, and finished off by Matteo Minozzi in the left corner. Garbisi’s conversion attempt came back off the far post.

Loosehead prop Danilo Fischetti performed wonders on the deck to thwart a couple of Scots attacks, and the visitors’ hopes of getting back in front before the break ended when a loose ball by Hogg floated into touch. The 11-7 deficit became 14-7 a minute or two after the re-start when Garbisi scored a penalty from the 10-metre line after Blade Thomson had offended, and it was clearly vital at that point that Scotland should get the next score.

They thought they had done so when Weir grounded in the right corner, but a TMO review proved what most spectators must have suspected – that the “scoring” pass from Sam Johnson had gone forward.

There was no denying Scotland minutes later, though, when, after a destructive break by Van der Merwe had set up good position, Zander Fagerson picked off a loose ball in the air to stroll over the line. The Italian defence had stopped for some reason, but referee Luke Pearce was plainly heard to shout play on.

Weir confidently converted to make it 14-14 with half-an- hour to play, and momentum appeared to have swung firmly in Scotland’s favour. Again, the Italians fought back, and a Garbisi penalty right on the hour mark put his team back in front, but that was their last hurrah, at least in terms of points.

Hooker George Turner and blindside Sam Skinner came off the bench to lend their weight to a pack whose early problems were behind them, and in the final quarter-hour the forwards claimed two vital scores. Both tries were down to the decisive leadership shown by Hogg, who opted, as he had in the first half, to turn down the promise of three points for a chance of seven.

On the first occasion, the line-out maul was halted but then taken on by Turner, Jonny Gray and Oli Kebble before Scott Cummings finished off from a couple of metres out. Weir’s conversion made it 17-21 – a handy but insecure lead – and, rather than attempting to defend it, the visitors rightly opted to try to extend it.

They finally did so three minutes from time. Once more, a maul from a line-out was stopped short; once more the pack took it on. When Turner plunged over the line, the referee curiously ruled no score, saying the hooker had lost the ball forward. But the TV replay provided robust refutation of that ruling, and with Weir making it four conversions out of four, the game was won.

Scorers, Italy - Try: Minozzi. Pens: Garbisi 4.

Scotland: Tries: Van der Merwe, Fagerson, Cummings, Turner. Cons: Weir 4.

Italy: M Minozzi (T Allan 66); J Trulla, M Zanon

(F Mori 56), C Canna, M Bellini; P Garbisi, M Violi (S Varney 55); D Fischetti (S Ferrari 66), L Bigi (captain) (L Ghiraldini 47), G Zilocchi (P Ceccarelli 55), M Lazzaroni, N Cannone, S Negri (J Meyer 49), B Steyn, J Polledri (M Mbanda 68).

Scotland: S Hogg (captain); D Graham (B Kinghorn 66), C Harris, S Johnson (J Lang 69), D van der Merwe; D Weir, A Price (S Hidalgo-Clyne 71);

R Sutherland (O Kebble 16), S McInally (G Turner 61), Z Fagerson (W Nel 66), S Cummings, J Gray, J Ritchie (N Haining 13, S Skinner 61), H Watson, B Thomson.

Referee: L Pearce (England).