Italy vs. Scotland: Winners and Losers from International Match
Scotland defeated Italy 16-12 in Turin on Saturday to give their World Cup preparations a welcome boost, with second-half substitute Henry Pyrgos claiming a match-winning try just seven minutes from time.
The two teams struggled to pull each other apart and went in at half-time level with nine points apiece before Vern Cotter's men produced the only try of the fixture to seal their victory.
International coaches are approaching their deadlines as pressure builds upon which players will make it to the World Cup, and both teams will have gained a greater understanding of who deserves to make their cut thanks to Saturday's result.
Read on for a breakdown of the biggest winners and loser to emerge from Scotland's triumph at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino.
Winner: Henry Pyrgos
Pyrgos scored for the second game in succession to do no harm in his bid to tie down Scotland's No. 9 jersey, with Gloucester's Greig Laidlaw his most obvious competition at this stage.
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne started in Turin, but it wasn't until Pyrgos—who captained the Scots against Ireland last Saturday—came on that the visitors really found their attacking stride thanks to an increase in tempo.
The Scottish Daily Mail's Rob Robertson agreed that Pyrgos' introduction changed the game, and another try-scoring outing may just have convinced Cotter he deserves to start at the World Cup.
Loser: The Paying Customer
It was hardly a sellout event at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Saturday, but those in attendance may still feel slightly aggrieved at the infrequency of fluid carrying phases on display.
Only two Italian players managed to carry for more than 20 metres, and Scotland weren't much better off as only two of their starting XV made 25 metres or more with ball in hand.
Ultimate Rugby statistics showed Scotland were the deserving winners, carrying for a collective 345 metres compared to the Azzurri's 299, despite making fewer runs and seeing a smaller share of possession.
However, Pyrgos' sole score stood out as a solitary attacking highlight of the fixture, where it seemed as though too many players were conscious of making errors rather than taking the risks needed to impress.
Winner: Samuel Vunisa
One of the players who comes out of Italy's defeat with his reputation intact is newly signed Saracens No. 8 Samuela Vunisa, who was nominated Man of the Match by Italian sponsors Rugby Cariparma.
It's unfortunate, then, that the back-row brute plays in the same position as team captain and all-round Italian hero Sergio Parisse, who has no chance of being dropped by coach Jacques Brunel.
However, at the very least, Brunel now knows he has a solid replacement at No. 8 should Parisse fall victim to injury or any other form of absence, stemming concerns in that area.
It may be a fleeting thought, but Italy may even consider the possibility of fielding Vunisa at blindside in order to get his considerable frame on the pitch in the same back row as Parisse.
Loser: Europe's "Also-Rans"
Not that a close result isn't appreciated for its tension value, but Italy and Scotland again showed on Saturday that of all the Tier 1 nations, they still sit some way off contending with the big guns of the sport.
Granted, these were weakened lineups, but this was also the fourth game in a row decided by a nail-biting margin, with the last three prior to Saturday's meeting won by three points or fewer.
Compared to the other four Six Nations combatants, neither Scotland nor Italy possess the same wealth of superstar talent, but foreign acquisition and players coming from overseas may just change that.
Whether or not that's a good thing in the international debate is still a very touchy subject, but for now, Brunel and Cotter must acknowledge Saturday's display didn't bode greatly for either side's World Cup title chances.
Winner: John Hardie
The latest New Zealand import to make his debut for Scotland, John Hardie features as one of those aforementioned newcomers arriving from overseas to potentially deepen Scotland's reserve in talent.
Against Ireland, we saw Blair Cowan and Hugh Black form a back row alongside David Denton, none of whom were born in Scotland, but are by all means considerable talents and strengthen the squad.
Hardie showed with a storming debut on Saturday that despite the fact he has no club, he's a flanking force to be reckoned with, making a joint-match-high of 15 tackles and earning the approval of BBC Scotland's Jamie Lyall.
Whether or or not he'll make it into the final squad is yet to be seen, but Cotter may not be blamed for believing in the Southland native after some hugely promising first steps in Scotland colours.
All statistics come courtesy of ESPN Scrum unless stated otherwise.