DAVID BARNES @ Kobe Misaki Stadium
WELCOME to the party, Scotland! Their late arrival meant that there was a few awkward moments early on in this match as they got their bearings, but by the end of the first half they were dominating the dance floor with two tries already in the bag. And, although they struggled to get over the line in the second-half, they did manage to get the bonus point secured by the time the final gong sounded.
Assuming that the psychological scarring of last week’s gruesome mauling by Ireland has now cleared, Scotland are about where we should have expected them to be at the start of the tournament, with one win and one defeat to their name. We might have hoped to have an extra bonus-point or two from the Ireland game, but that would have been … well … a bonus.
They still have a tough and tense couple of weeks coming up which will culminate in a huge game against Japan on 13th October, but any added pressure comes from the host nation’s remarkable victory over Ireland last Saturday – so was out-with Scotland’s control.
In short, Scotland are now in pretty good shape as their focus turns towards Russia in nine days’ time, when head coach Gregor Townsend will want to give as many of his second-stringers as possible a run-out in order to reserve his front-liners for the Japan game four days later.
Townsend’s team had the better of the possession and territory during the opening 30 minutes, and there was some promising touches – most notably when Sam Johnson sent a long, flat, miss-two pass out which released Darcy Graham for a bustling run on the right – but they only came away from this period with a ninth minute Greig Laidlaw penalty.
It was all pretty tense and tentative, which is understandable considering what was at stake. The really frustrating thing from a Scottish perspective was the number of times the pass was loose or the ball was fumbled just they got into the strike zone – before it finally clicked just before the half hour mark.
Sean Maitland rose heroically to reclaim one high ball, then Russell fired a second cross-field kick towards the other touch-line which Graham did well to scramble back on his own side, and Russell then fired yet another kick towards Maitland and this one was an absolutely beauty, which the winger took mid-stride before brushing off a despairing Samoan tackle as he stretched for the line.
Grant Gilchrist fumbled the restart, but Scotland were not punished, and they were soon 17-0 ahead when Russell shimmied through two defenders and fed Jamie Ritchie, who linked back inside to Laidlaw. It looked like the little scrum-half was going to be swallowed up by towering Samoans, but he took them by surprise by bouncing Tim Nanai-Williams, accelerating past Tusi Pisi and then holding off Ed Fidow as he ducked over the line.
Scotland were now motoring, and Stuart Hogg revved it up even further with an audacious 45-metre drop-goal after a smart quick line-out from Maitland.
Townsend’s team finished the half camped on the Samoan line. Twice their line-out drive was illegally collapsed just short of the line, with a yellow-card and/or penalty-try surely in the post, but on their third tilt at it they lacked a bit of accuracy and ended up conceding a careless penalty which let their opponents off the hook.
Scotland upped the pressure in the second half but try number three did not come easily. Johnson fit metres from the Smoan line, then Russell looping round from a scrum in the middle of the park almost released Graham but his bullet pass flew between the winger’s hands, before the breakthrough finally come on 55 minutes, when a yellow-card was issued and a penalty try was awarded against Samoan winger Fidow for entering from the side to kill a line-out drive which was rumbling irresistibly towards the try line.
It was really hot and stuffy inside the enclosed Kobe Misaki Stadium, and both sides struggled to build through phases. As the game entered the final ten minutes, that bonus-point try remained tantalisingly within sight but out of reach for Scotland, so it was beginning to get a bit nervy.
Then, after Blade Thomson absorbed a huge hit and Chris Harris timed the last pass brilliantly, Maitland was given a clear run at the line, but as he slid over in the corner Fidow appeared from nowhere to force the winger into touch. However, the Samoan had flown in with his knees first and referee Pascal Gauzere – having reviewed it via TMO – correctly issued the player with his second yellow-card (making it a red one) and awarded the penalty try.
Scotland were finally home and hosed. Even winning 34-0 is stressful if you are Scottish.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson (D Taylor 63), S Maitland; F Russell (A Hastings 74), G Laidlaw (G Horne, 63); A Dell (G Reid 12), S McInally (F Brown 51), W Nel (Z Fagerson 57), G Gilchrist (S Cummings 51), J Gray, M Bradbury (R Wilson 71), J Ritchie, B Thomson.
Samoa: T Nanai-Williams; B Tuatagaloa (K Fonotia. 44), A Leiua, H Taefu, E Fidow; T Pisi (U Seuteni, 53), M Matavao (P Cowley 71); L Mulipola (J Lay 43), R Niuia, M Alaalatoa (P Alo-Emile 46), F Paulo (P Faasalele 51), K Le’aupepe, C Vui, T Ioane, (J Tyrell 66) J Lam (J Tyrell 3-13).
Referee: Pascal Gauzere
Scotland: Try: Maitland, Laidlaw, Penalty Try 2; Con: Laidlaw 2; Pen: Laidlaw; DG: Hogg.
Samoa: No scorers
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 8-0; 10-0; 15-0; 17-0; 20-0 (h-t) 27-0; 34-0.