Gregor Townsend praised the composure shown by his team when riding out a first-half storm against a pumped-up Italian side in Florence, which kept them in the game before a second-half surge secured a bonus-point victory.

Scotland endured a ragged opening half-hour against an Azzurri side desperate to prove their doubters wrong following a fifth consecutive Six Nations without a win, and the loss of two key players in flanker Jamie Ritchie and prop Rory Sutherland was an added disruption for the visiting team. In truth, they were fortunate to be only four points down at the break – but they did not panic, and tries for Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings and George Turner saw them home.

“I love the calmness around the group when things aren’t going their way and there was a calm team at half time as well,” said Townsend, after his team 28-17 victory in the Autum Nations Cup. “We knew we had to be better but we were looking for solutions rather than being frustrated at what had gone on in the first half.

“There were a couple of things we did do well in the first half. Right before half time we set an attack that probably gave us the example to talk about – with strong ball-carries, varying the point of attack and being quick to the breakdown – so we knew if we did that a bit more we would find space in the Italian defence.

“The other thing was being more ambitious. There was a bit of a kicking match going on in the first half, and with the shorter pitch we thought we could run back more of those balls in the second half. It was great to see the back-three making yards and creating problems in the Italian defence.

“Finally, it was about discipline. We were getting frustrated with some of the calls in the first half but we were much improved in the second half. To have no penalties for that period of 37 minutes was a great effort from the squad. Our bench made big impacts and we found a way to win.”

Scotland have now won five games in a row for only the second time this century, and the first time since 2011. They will be looking to make it six for the first time since 1990 next weekend but know that they face a big step-up in class against France at Murrayfield. Townsend’s team came out on top the last time the sides met in March, but France have taken their rugby to the next level since then.

“We know we’re playing a team that’s probably the form side in the world right now and we’ll have to up our game to get a win against them,” he said. “They had announced a squad to come to Scotland which was 30 new players, but with their game being called off this weekend it’s back to the squad which would have played Fiji, who are full of confidence having played really well throughout the Six Nations and in their friendly against Wales.

“But there is more to come [from my team]. We’ll look back at that game and know there are areas to improve, but we’ll also be delighted with that resolve to go out and win the game.

“Time was ticking on a bit in that second half, so if a decision doesn’t go your way like a try not being awarded, you start to think it’s maybe not your day. But the players had real belief that it was going to be their day.

“As a coaching group, what you ideally want is a game where the team wins, shows leadership on the field, plays well, but also has some areas to then work on in training. There will be some of that for us before we play France.”

On the injury front, Townsend indicated that Ritchie could come back into contention next week following his head knock but did not sound as hopeful about Sutherland.

“Jamie got a head knock in a tackle and failed his HIA [head injury assessment] so he will be on the return-to-play protocols just like Fraser Brown from his one in training, so we’ll wait to see if he’s symptom free over the next few days and available for France,” he said.

“With Rory, we’ll have to see how he is when we get back home. He just got his ankle trapped in a scrum. It’s an ankle injury which was serious enough to take him off, which usually means it’s going to be more than just a couple of days.”

David Barnes