By Justin Davis ,AFP
TURIN, Italy — A late Henry Pyrgos try handed Scotland a 16-12 victory over Italy in a World Cup warm-up that will keep both sides guessing as they continue to build toward this fall’s showpiece in England. Scotland traveled to Turin hoping to build on the performance that left them on the wrong side of a 28-22 defeat to Ireland in Dublin last week. But having made 11 changes to that side, coach Vern Cotter had already set this game out as one in which to continue experimenting. Italy snatched victory at Murrayfield in their last meeting, although Jacques Brunel’s side finished the Six Nations with more questions than answers about their World Cup potential. With captain Sergio Parisse out with illness, Fiji-born Samuela Vunisa stepped into the No. 8 position with Quintin Geldenhuys taking the captain’s armband. Fellow veterans Leonardo Ghiraldini, Michele Rizzo and Martin Castrogiovanni did not appear until the 50th minute. It was a scrappy, nervous affair played in perfect summer conditions and before former Scotland under-20 star Tommaso Allan kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time to level the game 9-9, the hosts briefly showed some attacking promise.
Yet Scotland, dominated in possession in the opening half, capitalized on their rare chances after the interval to come away from a bruising encounter with a win that Cotter says was crucial. Scotland had raced to a 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of early penalties from David Weir, while Italy center Gonzalo Garcia missed an effort from 40 meters out. Garcia was on target minutes later from the halfway line following an infringement at the maul, although Vunisa’s failure to roll away at the ruck handed the visitors another penalty, with Weir duly obliging from 40 meters out.
Scotland Pushed Italy may be known for their strong scrum and solid defense, but in the absence of Parisse the Azzurri had Scotland pushed to the limits in defense prior to the interval, before Allan kicked over to level moments later. Wing Rory Hughes came within inches of ending the Scots’ quest for a try when he powered downfield to get a snatch at a clearing kick, only to see the ball slip from his grasp. Scotland could have gone ahead on the hour after being awarded a penalty when Vunisa entered another ruck from the side, but Weir’s effort from the right touchline was just wide. Instead, it was the hosts who pulled three points in front minutes later when Allan kicked over a penalty from 40 meters out after a Scottish infringement at a ruck. Both sides made a series of changes and Scotland came close to the opening try when Peter Horne set off on a mazy run, only to be hauled down inside Italy’s 22-meter line by Luke McLean.