Italy 23 Scotland 20
Andrea Marcato’s last-minute drop goal handed Scotland their fourth defeat in this year’s RBS 6 Nations – but Frank Hadden’s men avoided a second successive wooden spoon by the skin of their teeth.
After conceding a penalty try during a poor start, Scotland scored two tries in 20 minutes through Ally Hogg and Mike Blair.
That was more than they had scored in the previous seven matches. But they failed to build on it, and Marcato struck the winning kick after a poor pass by Dan Parks had gifted the Italians a second try.
Despite the encouraging first-half spell, Chris Paterson’s late penalty – his 33rd successful kick in a row for his country – were the only points Scotland scored after the break as they squandered a seven-point lead.
Scotland travelled in confident mood following the Calcutta Cup triumph, but Hadden was forced to make three changes following injuries to Rory Lamont, Ross Ford and Nikki Walker.
Simon Danielli, Parks and Fergus Thomson – making his first international start - came in. Italy needed victory by a margin of five to avoid finishing bottom and made a positive start in the Stadio Flaminio.
The hosts threatened first by moving the game into Scotland’s 22, after captain Sergio Parisse had intercepted a Parks pass.
Italy number nine Simon Picone broke clear of a scrum and fed Andrea Masi, but he was stopped just before the line.
Danielli, who missed the World Cup with injury, lasted less than six minutes when he was carried off with a leg injury – with Andrew Henderson coming on.
Marcato missed a 30-yard penalty. But Scotland were under pressure again from an Italian scrum five metres out, after another wayward pass by Parks.
As the Italians pushed the Scotland pack back, Welsh referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try for collapsing the scrum.
Marcato converted the 13th-minute score, and another poor pass by Parks ended Scotland’s first decent spell of possession moments later.
Scotland finally launched an attack midway through the half, and play opened up five metres out for Hogg to run over following an inside pass by Scott MacLeod.
Paterson levelled following the 21st-minute try, and Parks showed his prowess with the boot by kicking a 45-yard penalty.
Scotland were growing in confidence, and centre Graeme Morrison twice put Italy under pressure – first when he broke 30 yards with the ball in hand and then by chasing his own kick into the corner.
Captain Blair opted to kick a close-range penalty into touch as Scotland maintained the pressure, but full-back Marcato caught a crossfield kick by Parks after the subsequent line-out.
Despite Scotland’s dominance, Italy levelled in the 37th minute from Marcato’s 45-yard penalty – after MacLeod had been penalised for failing to roll away following a tackle.
Scotland again showed their willingness to run with the ball, and Blair scored their second try in stoppage time after picking the ball up from a ruck and running 25 yards under the post. Paterson converted to put Scotland seven ahead at the break.
Scotland were not as fluent immediately after the restart, with some over-hit kicks allowing Italy the chance to regroup.
Marcato missed a long-range penalty. But Italy were seeing more of the ball and pushed Scotland back as both sides brought on a flurry of replacements, including Jason White.
Scotland looked to have stemmed the pressure until another poor pass by Parks gifted Italy their second try in the 60th minute.
The stand-off’s pass on the left wing, well inside the Italy half, went straight to Parisse – and he broke forward, before passing inside for Gonzalo Canale to cross.
Marcato levelled the scores – and Italy remained on top, with the full-back converting a 35-yard penalty in the 71st minute.
Paterson completed a perfect Six Nations kicking record – to follow his 100% World Cup stats – by levelling with a penalty two minutes later. But Italy pinned Scotland back, and Marcato won the game from a central position 22 metres out.
The Italians celebrated, with Scotland’s only consolation their superior points difference of three that saved them from finishing bottom again.