A POTENTIAL banana-skin was avoided with minimum fuss and no obvious new injury concerns. Ben Toolis, Rory Hutchinson twice, Darcy Graham and Scott Cummings scored the tries as Georgia huffed and puffed but lacked the discipline and guile to really put Scotland under pressure.
It was a disappointing occasion on various fronts for the hosts. Not least through the Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi only being around two-thirds full. Much had been made of this being the first time a Tier One nation has played in Georgia, and the home union will have hoped for a packed house to reinforce their claims for a seat at the Six Nations table.
On the field, the team’s lack of rugby smarts was ruthlessly exposed by a determined Scotland team, who played most of the game on the front foot, with Finn Russell in full maestro mode during his 64 minutes on the park – which again undermined Georgias Six Nations claims.
Head coach Gregor Townsend names his final 31-man squad for the World Cup on Tuesday. None of the players involved in this game will have done their chances any harm, with the team grabbing a confidence-boosting first win on the road in 14 months – albeit against a very limited opposition.
Scotland have developed a bad habit of surrendering cheap scored early in matches – they had given up tries within three minutes of kick-off in each of their last three outings – but they managed to keep their ‘points against’ column at zero until the 32nd minute of this one, when Soso Matiashvili nailed a long-range penalty. By then, the visitors had already scored 20 points of their own and had a strangle-hold on the match which they didn’t ever look like relinquishing.
There was, however, an early fright when the mercurial Russell’s clearance was charged down, and Scotland were left thanking their lucky stars that Konstantin Mikautadze, the Georgian second-row, was heavy footed when he hacked ahead, meaning the ball disappeared safely over the dead-ball line. In fairness to Russell, it was about the only step out of line he made all afternoon.
Georgian indiscipline allowed Greig Laidlaw to nudge Scotland into a six-point lead in as many minutes, with a couple of easy shots at goal from directly in front of the sticks.
The visitors then grabbed their first try after Graham made a typically boisterous break and from quick-ball Russell ghosted past two lumbering tight-five forwards caught in midfield. Matt Fagerson and Laidlaw kept the move going, and Ben Toolis finished it off with his first international try.
Russell was soon at it again, and this time it was Graham who supported his break. The winger didn’t make the line, but Scotland kept the pressure on, and a few phases later Hutchinson skipped inside two tacklers and under the posts for try number two.
Georgian stage fright
The occasion had clearly got to the Georgians. There was plenty of aggression and niggle, but not enough focus on the task in hand – especially during the opening quarter. They did, however, recover some composure to get off the mark with that Matiashvili penalty after a high tackle from Allan Dell, although that was cancelled out just before the break by a third Laidlaw penalty.
Georgia started the second half in punchy mood buta wayward pass in midfield squandered an overlap on the left, and normal service was resumed a few minutes later when Hutchinson grabbed his second try, which surely confirmed beyond all doubt his seat on the plane to Japan. The Northampton Saints man hit a great line at pace after some slick handling from Laidlaw, Russell and Blair Kinghorn from the back of a scrum in front of the posts.
Georgia then had their first real period of pressure and they eventually got their reward when replacement loose-head Karlen Asieshvili burst past Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson on his way to the line.
With the bench being cleared by both sides, the game inevitably lost some of its shape, but it did spring to life when replacement No 8 Josh Strauss made the initial dent and Russell then produced a moment of magic when he laced an inch-perfect grubber-kick past three defenders for Graham to race onto and dot down in the corner. Russell then fired home the touchline conversion for good measure.
With 13 minutes to go, Cummings was the last man off the bench, taking the place of John Barclay with Toolis appearing to shift from second-row to the back-row. It seems unlikely that Townsned will be looking at the Edinburgh man as a potential hybrid player at the World Cup in place of the injured Sam Skinner. More likely the coach was ensuring that the players who most needed protecting were taken out of the firing line now that this game was well and truly over as a contest.
Cummings made an almost immediate impact when he barged over the line after a quick tap from Ali Price.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; D Graham, R Hutchinson, S Johnson (H Jones 48), S Maitland; F Russell (A Hastings 64), G Laidlaw (A Price 58); A Dell (J Bhatti 59), S McInally (G Stewart 64), W Nel (Z Fagerson 59), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Barclay (S Cummings 67), H Watson, M Fagerson (J Strauss 59).
Georgia: S Matiashvili (G Aprasidze 52); M Modebadze, Z Dzneladze (T Mchedlidze 53), D Kacharava, A Todua (L Khmaladze 52); T Abzhandadze, V Lobzhanidze (L Lomidze 53); M Nariashvili (K Asieshvili 55), S Mamukashvili (G Chkoidze 55), B Gigashvili (L Chilachava 55), S Sutiashvili, K Mikautadze, O Giorgadze, B Saghinadze, B Gorgadze.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Georgia: Try: Asiesvili; Con:Abzhandadze;Pen: Matiashvili.
Scotland: Tries: Toolis, Hutchinson 2, Graham, Cummings; Cons: Laidlaw 3, Russell, Hastings; Pen: Laidlaw 3
Scoring sequence (Georgia first): 0-3; 0-6; 0-11; 0-13; 0-18; 0-20; 3-20; 3-23 (h-t) 3-28; 3-30; 8-30; 10-30; 10-35; 10-37; 10-42; 10-44.