EDINBURGH (AFP) - Vern Cotter ended his three year tenure as Scotland’s head coach as his side beat Italy 29-0 for a bonus point victory that completed their most successful Six Nations campaign in 11 years.
Tries by fly-half Finn Russell, replacement centre Matt Scott and wingers Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour earned Cotter’s side a convincing win against a hapless Italy, who failed to trouble the scoreboard for the first time in two years – since a 29-0 defeat against France in Rome in March 2015.
That kept the Scots in with a chance of their first ever second-placed finish, depending on results in Paris and Dublin later on the final day of the championship, but ensured three Scottish victories out of five for only the second time in the Six Nations era, matching the tally achieved under Frank Hadden in 2006.
In watching his side bounce back from last week’s 61-21 mauling against England at Twickenham, Cotter finished his tenure with 19 victories from 36 matches. The 55-year-old Kiwi – who moves on to Montpellier in the French Top-14 when Glasgow’s Gregor Townsend replaces him in June – is the first Scotland coach in the professional era to record a win ratio of 50 per cent or more.
As for Italy, having produced promising first-half performances but dramatic second half fade-outs in their previous four games, they failed to get a point on the board in either half, completing a miserable maiden Six Nations campaign for coach Conor O’Shea, his side finishing bottom of the table without even a solitary bonus point.
The Scottish pack got on a powerful drive from the first scrum, forcing a penalty that full back Stuart Hogg converted from long range to give Cotter’s men a 3-0 lead after four minutes.
Not that the Scots proceeded to build momentum. With rain falling, there were handling errors on both sides and lost lineouts too.
The visitors fluffed a gilt edged opportunity to draw level at the mid-point of the opening half, outside half Carlo Canna screwing wide a penalty from a near-central position inside Scotland’s 22m line.
Not until the start of the second quarter did Scotland show any attacking intent. Centre Huw Jones took a flat pass from Russell and burst through a gap but slipped on the sodden turf 10m from the line and limped out of the action – to be replaced by Scott.
From the penalty that followed, Scotland set up a line-out drive in the right corner and eventually broke the Italian resistance, scrum-half Ali Price feeding Russell for a try in the left corner that the fly-half managed to convert.
That left Italy 10-0 down with 28 minutes on the clock and they continued to spurn opportunities to get their own points on the board, Canna missing another penalty.
The Scots capitalised on their good fortune with a second try two minutes before half-time. Hogg outleapt Italy’s left wing Giovanbattista Venditti to flick a Price chip back in the in-goal area for Scott.
Russell was unable to add the conversion but, when Canna missed a third penalty in injury-time, Scotland went into the second half with a 15-0 lead that the Italians struggled to whittle down.
They had plenty of possession but met with firm resistance, Hogg holding up Angelo Esposito in the right corner and then thwarting the wing with a superb tackle.
Scotland lost captain John Barclay to the sin bin after 49 minutes, the Scarlets flanker having hauled down a maul while off his feet, but still held the Italians at bay.
After Barclay’s return, in the 61st minute Visser touched down a Hogg kick into the left corner and Russell converted.
Then, with eight minutes to go, Hogg fed a scoring pass for Seymour to secure the try bonus, Russell adding the conversion.