ROME, Italy -- After nine successive Six Nations defeats, Scotland finally have a win to their name, but Saturday's victory over Italy was yet another reminder of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Scottish rugby. At time they looked brilliant in attack. At others, they looked determined to implode.
Vern Cotter's men came to the Italian capital with that dreaded sporting word -- pressure -- weighing mightily on their shoulders. In the week leading up to what seems like a perennial wooden spoon decider, Stuart Hogg admitted his teammates were "dying" for a win, Tim Visser claimed it was "make or break" time, and Tommy Seymour said he was fed up with being labeled a "valiant loser".
Well, with victory in Rome, the Scots prevented their tournament losing streak from extending into double figures, but there is still work to be done if that is to turn into a winning run against France in a fortnight's time.
It was a case of first half good, second half bad at the Stadio Olimpico. The first 40 saw Scotland return to the brand of rugby that made them so eye-catching during last year's Rugby World Cup. It took Kelly Haimona's early long-range penalty for Italy to wake the visitors from their slumber, but then Hogg stepped up to drive his team towards the Italian tryline with a beautifully jinking run. Flanker John Barclay was the man to touch down, but the flying fullback was the creator and the tone for invention in the backline was set.
Five minutes later it was another impressive back spurring Scotland to score. Finn Russell is seen as one of Scottish rugby's brightest sparks and the fly-half's step on Josh Furno was a work of footballing art. Again it was a flanker to touch down, this time the hard-working John Hardie, but the try was made in the backs division.
For the neutral, it came as a welcome tonic to the turgid rugby this Six Nations has offered so far.
If Scotland found themselves under immense pressure to win on Saturday, they might have spared a thought for their Italian opponents. Every year it seems debate rages about whether or not Italy warrant their place in the Six Nations, questions which have only grown after the impressive efforts of Georgia at last year's World Cup. But they almost beat France on the opening weekend, ran England close before running out of puff a fortnight ago, and against Scotland they refused to let their heads go down.
The hosts enjoyed plenty of backing in front of their partisan support -- who took great delight in booing Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw whenever he lined up a shot at goal. Hooker Leanardo Ghiraldini touched down for a first-half try and Haimona found the kicking boots that deserted him during his appearances last year. But their lack of quality on the tryline denied them the chance of a crucial victory of their own.
At the heart of so much of Scotland's first-half success, Russell almost cost his side the game in the second. The young stand-off, warned twice by referee Jaco Peyper to leave the ball alone at the ruck, was shown a yellow card for meddling yet again. Ninety seconds later Italy would touch down via lock Marco Fuser. Where Scotland should have been home and dry, they were scrambling in defence on their own tryline. Better teams, surely, would have punished them harder.
The final five minutes were a microcosm of the match itself. Scotland regained Russell but almost immediately lost WP Nel to the sin bin. With the clock ticking towards fulltime, the memories of 2015's defeat to Italy at the death at Murrayfield were creeping in - and that to a penalty try, no less; these particular habits die hard. But then up stepped Tommy Seymour, brilliantly assisted by another fine run and pass from Hogg, to run in a decisive try and ensure victory for the visitors.
There is often a sense of "oh but it's only Italy" surrounding victories such as these. Let's put that to bed. Yes, Italy are miles away from being world class, but Saturday was not a pool-stage jaunt against the USA or Samoa. It was a win against Six Nations opponents in front of a hostile Stadio Olimpico crowd.
Scotland will not get carried away with themselves -- there is a lot to improve on in the defensive department, for a start -- but victory in Rome stopped the rot. That, for now, will do.