STUART BATHGATE @ BT Murrayfield
THE return of a full-strength team saw Scotland regain their top form with a convincing eight-try victory over formidably physical opposition. If there was the odd glaring flaw in the performance, it was night and day compared to the loss to Wales a week earlier, with the backs showing a real cutting edge and the pack producing a dominant display, above all in the maul.
The match will be remembered for Tommy Seymour hat-trick, while the other tries came from Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Sean Maitland, Jamie Ritchie and Adam Hastings. But some of the non-scorers were just as impressive, with Sam Skinner enjoying a fine debut which saw him switch from lock to flanker late on and end up being named man of the match, while his second-row partner Grant Gilchrist had one of his most impressive international outings. Josh Strauss also showed he still has a lot to offer after coming off the bench for the injured Matt Fagerson, and Pete Horne was impressive with both his creativity going forward and his determination in defence.
Ben Volavola opened the scoring with an early penalty, and there was a 10-minute spell late in the first half when Fiji were back in front, but the second half was all Scotland. They regained the lead two minutes after the restart, and tightened up considerably in defence, not conceding a single point in the second 40. Still, if the overall display was considerably heartening, there were concerns about the ease with which Fiji breached the defence in the first half – concerns which will need to be addressed before the bigger challenge of South Africa next Saturday.
“To get eight tries and have the players feel that atmosphere was behind them is a huge boost going into next week,” was Gregor Townsend’s verdict. “The players are very aware that next week is a huge step up.
“South Africa, you could argue, are in the best two or three teams in the world given their recent form. They’ve beaten New Zealand once and could have done it a second time. They have a huge pack, one which caused England a lot of problems last week. We believe they’re playing a level of rugby that is rival to the best teams in the world right now.”
Captain Greig Laidlaw, who was on target with all five of his conversion attempts while Finn Russell added two more, echoed those sentiments from the head coach.
“We’ll need to defend very well against the Springboks,” he said. “We’ll take our learnings for next week, because against one of the best teams in the world you can’t defend like that.”
The home team took the lead for the first time after 12 minutes, when a lineout drive from a penalty first saw Fraser Brown being held up before Allan Dell eventually crossed from a metre out. Greig Laidlaw converted that score, and he added another two points around five minutes later when Brown did get on the scoresheet after Pete Horne had been held up on the line by Setareki Tuicuvu.
So far so good, but then a combination of Fijian invention and an apparent lapse of concentration from Scotland saw the game swing back in the tourists’ favour. An overthrown lineout from Brown led to the first try, scored by the familiar figure of Edinburgh No 8 Bill Mata after Peceli Yato had broken through the first line of defence. Mata still had a lot to do when he got the ball, but had the strength to power through the attempted tackle by Stuart Hogg to touch down between the posts.
It was another Fijian well known to Scots, former Glasgow Warrior Leone Nakarawa, who initiated the second try, although it was his fellow-lock Tevita Cavubati who eventually provided the scoring pass to Radradra. With Volavola converting both tries, that put the Fijians 17-14 ahead, but they were on the back foot for the rest of the half, and the two second rows were sinbinned as Scotland fought back.
Cavubati was first to see yellow after two penalties right on the Fijian line, the first of which had seen Brown held up. When a third penalty went to touch and the lineout was once more driven, the hooker thought he had scored again, but the TMO ruled that Jamie Ritchie had obstructed the defence.
Scotland persisted in attack as half-time loomed, and after another flurry of penalties, Nakarawa also went to the bin. With a two-man advantage, the opening was there out wide from a scrum penalty, and a beautiful floated pass from Russell found Seymour on the right wing. Laidlaw converted the winger’s try from tight on the touchline, and Scotland took a four-point lead into the interval.
Cavubati was back within a minute of the restart, but Scotland were still able to press home their numerical advantage, with Sean Maitland scoring in his fourth consecutive Test and Laidlaw once more converting. It took Townsend’s team around quarter of an hour to score again, but their superiority had become evident, and when the next try did come it was thoroughly deserved, with Laidlaw putting Seymour in with a reverse pass.
If the way in which the winger cut back against the grain for that score was a delight, it paled into mundanity compared to the next try, in which Seymour completed his hat-trick. Stuart Hogg began the move by fielding a penalty then opting to run back at Fji, and after a swift sequence of passing Chris Harris put the Warriors winger in at the corner. With Laidlaw having gone off, Hogg attempted the conversion but missed.
Inside the last five minutes heavy pressure in the shadow of the posts ended with Ritchie touching down against the base of the right post, and then in the last action of the game Adam Hastings got the final try. He began the move by popping up a pass to Russell, and after the No 10 had broken through it was Hastings who was on his shoulder to collect the return. Russell added two more points, and a highly impressive afternoon’s work was complete.
“I’m not sure if we were overwhelming favourites going into today given the threats that Fiji pose, and we saw that with the two tries they got in the first half,” Townsend added. “Our performance had to be at a level where they weren’t able to play that rugby for too much of the game.”
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dell, F Brown, W Nel, S Skinner, G Gilchrist, R Wilson, J Ritchie, M Fagerson. Subs: S McInally, A Allan, S Berghan, J Gray, J Strauss, G Horne, A Hastings, C Harris.
Fiji: S Tuicuvu; M Talebula, S Radradra, J Vatabua, V Goneva; B Volavola, F Lomani; C Maafu, S Matavesi, M Saulo, T Cavubati, L Nakarawa, D Waqaniburotu, P Yato, V Mata. Subs: M Dolokoto, E Mawi, K Tawake, A Tuisue, S Kunatani, H Seniloli, A Veitokani, E Vasiteri.
Scotland: Tries: Dell, Brown, Seymour 3, Maitland, Ritchie, Hastings. Cons: Laidlaw 5, Russell 2.
Fiji: Tries: Mata, Radradra. Cons: Volavola 2. Pen: Volavola.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3, 5-3, 7-3, 12-3, 14-3, 14-8, 14-10, 14-15, 14-17, 19-17, 21-17 half-time, 26-17, 28-17, 33-17, 35-17, 40-17, 45-17, 47-17, 52-17, 54-17.
Yellow cards –
Fiji: Cavubati, Nakarawa.
Referee: A Brace (Ireland).