WITH his sleight of hand and unpredictable, devil-may-care running from deep, Gregor Townsend the player could almost have been characterised as an honorary Fijian. While Townsend the coach was at pains pre-match to stress the perils of taking on the Pacific Islanders on at their own game – the first defeat of the Townsend era was inflicted by the Fijians in a 27-22 victory in Suva last summer – that ultimately was the end the result as Scotland out-Fiji-ed Fiji to get their Autumn back on track after last weekend’s setback in Cardiff.
The eight tries they ran in during the course of this morale-boosting 54-17 win was the most they have scored since recording another eight in a 53-24 win against Australia this time last year.
Having gone without a score since the 2017 Six Nations, Tommy Seymour, born in Nashville, had another three tries to add to his Greatest Hits collection. The hat-trick of fine finishes he helped himself to here was good enough for fourth on Scotland’s all-time list, behind just Ian Smith, Tony Stanger and Chris Paterson. Perhaps more importantly, it nudged him back ahead of his team-mate Stuart Hogg, but he would have had another one too had his room-mate Peter Horne not dummied when a simple pass would have seen the line gaping.
Those seeking thrilling running from the Scots from the outset would have to wait until the last half hour to get their fix – because what really ground down the Pacific islanders yesterday was Scotland keeping the ball close, working through the phases and a series of punishing line-out drives.
Lacking the discipline to continually defend them, the visitors’ only answer was a variety of different underhand infringements. Consequently BT Murrayfield, a rugby stadium once more after its brief period as host stadium for the Betfred Cup semi-final between Hearts and Celtic, saw a couple of crucial yellow cards. The islanders were down to 13 men as Scotland turned the screw round about half time due to the sin-binning of the hulking Tevita Cavubati and last year’s European player of the year Leone Nakarawa, shipping two tries in a period which they never really recovered from.
The mantra after last week’s 21-10 defeat for the inaugural Doddie Weir cup in Cardiff was to execute better in both attack and defence. Back came a hat-trick of big guns in the form of French-based half backs Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, with Stuart Hogg fit to resume at full back through injury. There was a first start too for Sam Skinner of Exeter Chiefs, a former England Under-20 international, who opted for the nation of his father’s birth, even though it ostensibly made his club existence more difficult. On the strength of the sponsor’s man of the match award which he picked up yesterday, already looks a pretty tidy acquisition,
Huw Jones was a victim of a reshuffle in the back division, presumably paying the penalty for missed tackles in the lead-up to two Wales tries last week as he dropped out of the matchday squad, but once again there will be some mis-steps from Scotland for Townsend to rake over in the film room.
Ben Volavola, another Racing 92 fly half, slotted a penalty in the second minute after an early Scottish infringement at a ruck, then Semi Radradra caused apoplexy in the home defence, showing Alex Dunbar a clean pair of heels as he started a break deep in his own territory. Matt Fagerson sustained a dead leg and didn’t last the opening half hour.
The first try helped steady the nerves. Edinburgh prop Allan Dell plunged over after a line-out, then his front row buddy Fraser Brown got in on the act, clearly placing the ball cleanly on the line even if the decision was referred to the TMO.
Brown is a menace in such situations – he had another try for a driving maul controversially disallowed for an alleged infringement by Jamie Ritchie – but not everything he was touching yesterday was turning to gold. From a line-out in his own half, he overthrew Grant Gilchrist. Stuart Hogg missed a tackle and soon VIliame ‘Bill’ Mata was consummating his love of his adopted home Edinburgh by gambolling under the posts.
Fiji led 17-14 as half-time approached but they had already scored their last points of the day. Seymour’s first try, making most of their two-man advantage by touching down out wide from Russell’s wide pass, was a blow to the solar plexus. It was a double blow, with Sean Maitland benefiting from a Laidlaw pass to touch down almost immediately after the re-start.
Scotland kept producing big guns from the bench and soon the defence of the reigning Olympic sevens champions was at sixes and sevens. Seymour found a fine angle as he ran onto a Laidlaw pass for try No 5, then completed his hat-trick with a beauty after nice work from substitute centre Chris Harris.
Ritchie got the try he deserved, touching the foot of the posts after another close range maul and the coup-de-grace was Adam Hastings’ first Scotland try, after he sweetly exchanged passes with Russell, who had taken over kicking duties from his half back partner Laidlaw by then. It wasn’t perfect from Scotland, but eight tries in any international match is good shooting. Their new-found momentum will be tested by the Springboks next Saturday.
Source : HeraldScotland