A DESERVED win brought a blessed end to a miserable run of results for Scotland in the Six Nations Championship, as Vern Cotter’s team at last turned a run of narrow defeats into triumph. But this was a lot more touch-and-go than the final margin of victory suggests - or indeed than seemed likely when the visitors raced into a 17-3 lead in the first half.

At several points in the second half the momentum was firmly back in the Italian camp, not least when Finn Russell was yellow-carded with around 20 minutes to go. WP Nel was also sinbinned, after the stand-off had returned, but the Italians had little time to make use of the prop’s absence, and Tommy Seymour made sure of the win with the last try of the game.

The mistakes were still there, as were the lapses of concentration that have cost Scotland dear in the recent past, but they were neither as numerous nor as glaring as they have been. And crucially, Italy’s play was also error-strewn, particularly late in the game when they ran a couple of penalties in panic mode in the Scotland 22 and failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority.

Scotland won the try count 3-2, with Greig Laidlaw converting all three and adding five penalties. The scrum-half, named man of the match, again displayed his leadership qualities by remaining calm in a tight spot.

But above all this was a victory for the whole team - the most points they have scored in a Six Nations match, and their first win in the tournament since they won here in Rome two years ago. After nine successive defeats in the Championship, they can at last look forward to the coming games with a degree of qualified optimism.

What is more, the win was achieved despite unpropitious circumstances - not just those two sinbinnings, but also the fact that, for the second game running, they had to make a late change to their starting line-up. David Denton dropped out because of a groin strain he picked up during yesterday’s team run, and Ryan Wilson replaced him at No 8. Josh Strauss, who had played almost all of Glasgow’s win against the Dragons on Thursday night, came on to the bench as a late replacement.

The obvious risk to Scotland here was that an early injury to a member of the back row would force Strauss to play a greater portion of the game than he would be comfortable with. Fortunately, there was no such mishap, and the most salient feature of the opening minutes was the superiority of the Scottish scrum.

It was Italy who took the lead, with an eighth-minute Kelly Haimona penalty awarded against John Barclay for not releasing in the tackle. But Scotland soon hit back, and went in front thanks to a try from Barclay himself.

After a half-break by Jonny Gray through the middle, the ball went left, first to Tim Visser then on to Stuart Hogg. The full-back was held by his opposite number, but popped up the ball for Barclay to collect and go over. Laidlaw added the two points.

With just over quarter of an hour played, the visitors got their second try, again out on the left. Russell and Barclay were again involved in the build-up through the middle, then Wilson attacked to the left and passed to John Hardie, who forced his way over from 10 metres out. Laidlaw was again on target to take the score to 14-3.

The captain added a penalty after 25 minutes to emphasise Scotland’s domination of the contest and take the scoreboard to 17-3. But before anyone had time to think that this was going to be plain sailing, Italy reduced the deficit with their first try.

It was a well-worked move, finished off close to the left corner by Leonardo Ghiraldini, but there had to be concern in the Scots defence at the ease with which several tackles were broken in the build-up. Haimona converted, and suddenly that commanding lead looked a lot more precarious at 17-10.

The score remained the same at half-time, with a Laidlaw penalty attempt going wide in the last kick of the half. The scrum-half had another chance five minutes into the second half, however, and this time was on the mark from 30 metres out to give his team a ten-point advantage. Italy were far more alert from the restart, and came close to scoring a second try before they had to settle for a penalty, dinked over by Haimona from in front of the posts. Laidlaw soon took the gap back to ten with his third successful penalty of the day, then made it 26-13 with his fourth.

With less than 20 minutes to play, Italy again came close to claiming another try. Again they were stopped illegally, and this time Russell was yellow-carded for putting his hands into a ruck. The Italians ran the penalty, eventually second-row Marco Fuser plunged over, and after referee Jaco Peyper referred the incident to the Television Match Official the score was given. Haimona converted to make it 20-26.

Then Laidlaw added another three points with a long-range effort to relieve the pressure, but Italy immediately went back on the attack. A defiant defence first held them at bay, and then, just after Russell returned, won a penalty from a scrum on their own five-metre line. That successful defence proved crucial, as the Scots fought back in the last few minutes to wrap up the win through Seymour’s try, the scoring pass coming from Hogg.

ITALY: Tries: Ghiraldini, Fuser. Cons: Haimona 2. Pens: Haimona 2.

SCOTLAND: Tries: Barclay, Hardie, Seymour. Cons: Laidlaw 3. Pens: Laidlaw 5.

Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia (A Pratichetti 77), M Bellini; K Haimona (E Padovani 73), E Gori (G Palazanni 80); A Lovotti (M Zanusso 58), L Ghiraldini (D Giazzon 58), L Cittadini (M Castrogiovanni 58), M Fuser, J Furno (V Bernabo 38), F Minto (A van Schalkwyk 68), A Zanni, S Parisse.

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett (P Horne 63), D Taylor, T Visser (S Lamont 73); F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford (S McInally 64), W Nel, R Gray (T Swinson 80), J Gray, J Barclay (M Low 80), J Hardie, R Wilson (J Strauss 68). Unused substitutes: R Sutherland, S Hidalgo-Clyne.

Referee: J Peyper (South Africa). Attendance: 67,721.